smoking sprouts.jpgOrganic bean sprouts from the Gaertnerhof Bienenbuettel farm near Uelzen, Germany, about 35 miles (56 kilometers) southeast of Hamburg (seems pretty local) have been link to the 39 Dead, 826 with HUS and 3,406 Ill in what has become the second largest, but mostly deadly, E. coli outbreak in history.

If you think that the same outbreak could not happen here, you have not paid attention to history (or my blog). Recall this:

• From November 1, 2010, through February 9, 2011, 140 individuals infected with the outbreak strain of Salmonella serotype I 4,[5],12:i:-, whose illnesses began since November 1, were reported from 26 states and the District of Columbia. Results of the investigation indicated a link to eating Tiny Greens Alfalfa Sprouts or Spicy Sprouts at Jimmy John’s restaurant outlets.

• Testing by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) of one environmental (water run-off) sample identified Salmonella serotype I 4,[5],12:i:- that was indistinguishable from the outbreak strain.

Although there is no mention of the above outbreak on Tiny Green’s website, here is how the operation is described:

Tiny Greens is a unique organic farm located in the flatlands of central Illinois. Bill Bagby started growing sprouts using hydroponics in 1986. After 7 years he decided to become a certified organic grower, building a new, eco-friendly building to grow sprouts, as well as baby micro-greens. Tiny Greens now grows more than 16 varieties of sprouts and baby micro-greens. Our most popular items are still mung beans and alfalfa sprouts. Some others are red clover sprouts, sunflower greens and ocean water-grown wheatgrass. …

I’ll let you read the FDA Inspection Report on Tiny Greens.

True, there is a very large difference between 140 sick with Salmonella I 4,[5],12:i:- and 3,406 with E. coli O104:H4. But, the type of bug and the number ill is where the dissimilarities end.

The Tiny Green’s sprout outbreak went on for months until state and federal authorities caught wind of it. The same seems to have happened in Germany. How bacteria – Salmonella I 4,[5],12:i:- or E. coli O104:H4 – get into seeds, workers, water supply or sprouts would not differ – bugs do not care how they hitch a ride to sicken us.  It also appears that both outbreaks have centered on sprouts served at restaurants and hotels (most locally), and those sickened were primarily adults.

So, do not take much comfort that E. coli O104:H4 has not yet found its way to the United States.  Other bugs – just a deadly – are already here.

  • From a friend:
    Bill, you are spot on this issue, we were spared this tragedy here, but not because we did anything to prevent it. There are several salient issues here; first sprouts are a problem, along the lines of raw milk. Costco will not sell them nor have they for some time for just that reason. Second, as you are too sadly aware we don’t require looking for this bad actor in any food source in the US, if we utilized the approach that’s nearing operational capability now being fostered by NCBA we’d most likely have found this bad boy. But still all this active surveillance is still discretionary by the producers.
    There are just products that should be tested prior to being released for sale, raw milk, sprouts, raw oysters to name but a few. I hate test and hold programs but where other interventions are not available they provide a good control program. Anyone that says their product doesn’t need pasteurizing, microbial control because it’s so pure surely can’t object to the products being tested and cleared, right?

  • Doc Mudd

    Microbes never sleep…and they don’t give a damn where you or I live or what we choose to believe. Gotta respect that, or else.

  • Sam

    Don’t hate, learn to love “test and hold”. The food company I work for does it; the test for e. coli gives preliminary results overnight. Even the most perishable food product can wait one day before distribution to allow for proper testing. We call it “quality control”. Oh, and we did not wait for anyone to tell us to do it. It’s not just a good idea… and we have never sickened/killed a customer.

  • RM

    The very first paragraph sums up exactly why and how this could happen here. Is Senator Tester aware of the proximity? I am not sure what this organic farm’s revenue was, but if it is low enough, Tester’s amendment would have exempted them from having to comply with the Food Modernization Act if this company was located in the U.S.. I am director of organics for my company. I am also director of food safety. The two areas butt heads a lot, but it is completely possible to have them mesh and work incredibly well together. I wish more people would figure that out, for all of our sake

  • dangermaus

    RM, are you saying that, as director of food safety, if your company wasn’t regulated under FSMA, you wouldn’t try as hard to put out safe food? That’s absurd.