Advice ain’t adherence: Sprout safety in Australia

Australia’s Food Safety Information Council says that outbreaks of foodborne illness have been associated with eating seed sprouts. Most seed sprouts are consumed raw, therefore do not receive any form of heat treatment prior to consumption which would inactivate pathogens (if present). A 2005 Salmonella outbreak in WA of 125 cases was linked to alfalfa sprouts  and a 2006 Salmonella outbreak of 15 cases in Victoria was linked to alfalfa sprouts.

sprout.salad.aust.aug.15To eat bean sprouts safely adhere to the use by date displayed on seed sprout packaging and follow storage directions on the seed sprout packaging and store seed sprouts at 5ºC or below. Avoid cross contamination from other risky foods such as meat or poultry. Washing sprouts has been found to be not very effective as laboratory studies have shown that bacteria can be internalised in the sprouts, making it difficult wash off/sanitise, and bacteria can be protected in a biofilm on the sprout surface. People in the 4 vulnerable demographics (young children, people 70+, immune-compromised or pregnant) should not eat uncooked sprouts of any kind.

That’s all good advice. But not enough.

Wal-Mart stopped selling raw sprouts a few years ago because they could not get a consistently safe supply. Raw sprouts are one of the few foods I will not eat, yet it is impossible to get a sandwich, in Australia, without sprouts or sprout remnants. And this pic (right)? It’s from an Australian hospital, home to the immunocompromised and pregnant.

As I always tell my kids, whether at home or the arena, less talk, more action.

Germans who wrongly fingered Spanish cucumbers ordered to pay

Many regulators see going public with information related to an outbreak as a no-win situation. As Paul Mead once said – ‘If you’re wrong, you went public too early; if you’re right, you went [public] too late.’

Best to err on the side of public health – and tell folks about the uncertainties in your data and decision-making.spain_ag_minister_cuc_may_11(2)

In 2011, at the height of an E. coli O104 outbreak which led to 4,075 illnesses (including 908 cases of HUS) and 50 deaths in 16 countries, epidemiological information was evolving. During the investigation, German authorities, based on a sample taken out of a trash bin, fingered Spanish cucumbers as the source. It turned out to be fenugreek sprouts.

According to ThinkSpain, a Spanish cucumber firm is being compensated for being wrongfully implicated.

A German court has upheld a Málaga-based vegetable cooperative’s claim for compensation after the E.coli scare was incorrectly linked to Spanish cucumbers.

Sales director for Frunet, Richard Söpenberg, says that although the co-op had sued for €2.3 million, the case was more about clearing its name than earning back the money it had lost through the unfair finger-pointing at its produce.

“The judge in Hamburg has recognised that we did nothing wrong, and we are very proud and happy about that – above and beyond the compensation awarded, what’s most important is the restitution of the company’s good name,” Söpenberg revealed.

The cooperative’s sales manager says he ‘trusts the case will serve as a learning curve’, since it highlights the extent of harm an ‘unfounded accusation’ can cause any firm.

cucumber.spainMEP-300x188“Pointing the finger at a company can destroy it completely in seconds, and this is something that could happen to any firm in the world,” Söpenberg warned.

Missing from the mis-fingered cucumber story is the food safety steps that Spanish growers/shippers/distributors take to ensure microbial food safety. An outbreak like this was an opportunity to brag – if procedures are in place and there’s data to back it up. Too bad it had to come out in court proceedings over four years later.

‘Industry standards, inspections, QA andHACCP’ Sprout grower sued for salmonella illness despite soundbites

Coral Beach of The Packer writes that a Rhode Island woman is seeking unspecified damages from Wonton Food Inc. in relation to a salmonella infection she developed after eating the company’s fresh sprouts.

kevin.allen.sproutThe case against the Brooklyn, N.Y.-based company stems from a 2014 salmonella outbreak that sickened at least 115 people in a dozen states, according to reports from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration. 

Amanda Harris, Middleton, R.I., was among the seven Rhode Island residents who developed salmonella infections from Sept. 30 through Dec. 15, 2014, according to the federal court complaint against Wonton Food.

The company’s website states it operates within “industry standards.”

“Our company participates in the strictest of inspections, from both the U.S. government agencies and our valued customers. We also maintain a top notch quality assurance department that has been formally trained and holds HACCP certifications. We are regularly audited by our customers, and independent third party firms such as Silliker Labs & NSF consistently scoring a ‘Superior’ rating,” according to the Wonton Food website.

The federal civil case against the company challenges the effectiveness of Wonton Food’s food safety.

Was it sprouts? Rare Salmonella in Switzerland and Germany over past decade

During the summer of 2013, an increase of Salmonella enterica ssp. enterica serovar Szentes isolates from human clinical cases was registered by the Swiss National Centre for enteropathogenic bacteria and Listeria.

sprout.santa.barf.xmasIn the course of the ensuing 9 months, 18 isolates originating from 13 patients and from one food sample were collected. Of the 13 human cases, 10 (77%) were female. The patients’ ages ranged from 27 to 83 years (median age 49 years). Pulsed-field gel electrophoresis (PFGE) performed with XbaI, and multilocus sequence typing (MLST) were used to type the strains. PFGE as well as MLST showed the strains as indistinguishable. The PFGE pattern and MLST sequence type (ST427) were identical to those of Salmonella enterica serovar Szentes isolated in previous years (2002–2013) from sporadic cases in Switzerland and Germany.

The increased isolation frequency continued for 6 months after the detection of Salmonella Szentes in sprouts. No common food exposure could be established. Due to lack of information on the potential food source, further investigations were not possible. The outbreak of this unusual serotype was detected because of its temporal clustering.

 Salmonella enterica serovar Szentes, a rare serotype causing a 9-month outbreak in 2013 and 2014 in Switzerland

Foodborne Pathogens and Disease. Ahead of print. doi:10.1089/fpd.2015.1996.

Nüesch-Inderbinen Magdalena, Cernela Nicole, Althaus Denise, Hächler Herbert, and Stephan Roger

Sprouts recalled again

As Virginia sprout grower (not) Good Seed Inc., of Springfield, Va., announced its third recall because of Listeria monocytogenes, the Australian Food Safety Information Council issued a sprout summary, noting that in addition to overseas outbreaks, 125 were sickened with Salmonella in Western Australia in 205 and 15 in Victoria in 2006.

sprout.salad.aust.aug.15“Washing sprouts has been found to be not very effective as laboratory studies have shown that bacteria can be internalised in the sprouts, making it difficult wash off/sanitise, and bacteria can be protected in a biofilm on the sprout surface. People in the 4 vulnerable demographics (young children, people 70+, immune-compromised or pregnant) should not eat uncooked sprouts of any kind.

This is a picture of a salad served at an Australian institution full of immunocompromised people.

Guess they didn’t get the memo.

Good Seed in Virginia isn’t saying anything, although all three recalls came weeks after the fresh sprouts were packed and shipped. The most recent recall notice, dated Aug. 3, is for all sprouts Good Seed produced on or after June 22.

The Packer reports no illnesses have been linked to the sprouts, which were distributed to retailers in Virginia, Maryland and New Jersey.

However, a spokeswoman for the Virginia Department of Agriculture said in May that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed some listeria infections among people in the distribution area match the genome type of the listeria monocytogenes confirmed on the Good Seed sprouts.

Still on every sandwich: Sprout safety in Australia

Seed sprouts have been implicated as vehicles for numerous foodborne outbreaks worldwide. sprouts pose a unique food safety concern because of the ease of microbiological seed contamination, the inherent ability of the sprouting process to support microbial growth, and their consumption either raw or lightly cooked.

To examine seed sprout safety in the Australian state of Victoria, a survey was conducted to detect specific microbes in seed sprout samples and to investigate food handling practices relating to seed sprouts. A total of 298 seed sprout samples were collected from across 33 local council areas. Escherichia coli was detected in 14.8%, Listeria spp. in 12.3%, and Listeria monocytogenes in 1.3% of samples analyzed. Salmonella spp. were not detected in any of the samples.

A range of seed sprout handling practices were identified as potential food safety issues in some food businesses, including temperature control, washing practices, length of storage, and storage in proximity to unpackaged ready-to-eat potentially hazardous foods.

Microbiological Safety and Food Handling Practices of Seed Sprout Products in the Australian State of Victoria

Journal of Food Protection®, Number 7, July 2015, pp. 1250-1419

Symes, Sally, Goldsmith, Paul, Haines, Heather

Good Seed Inc. recalls soybean sprouts due to Listeria

Raw sprouts, you always deliver news to food safety nerds.

(not so) Good Seed Inc. of Springfield is voluntarily recalling all packages of soybean sprouts and mung bean sprouts because they have the potential to be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes.

Mung-bean-sprouts-in-bowlThe following products are being recalled by the firm.

1-lb bags of soybean sprouts in clear plastic bags labeled “GOODSEED Soy Bean Sprouts” “Keep Refrigerated” with a UPC Code of “21111  10035” produced on or after May 8, 2015.

1-lb bags of mung bean sprouts in clear plastic bags labeled “GOODSEED Mung Bean Sprouts” “Keep Refrigerated” with a UPC code of “21111 20136” produced on or after May 8, 2015.

2-lb bags of soybean sprouts in clear plastic bags labeled “GOODSEED Soy Bean Sprouts” “Keep Refrigerated” with a UPC Code of “21112 58772” produced on or after May 8, 2015.

2-lb bags of mung bean sprouts in clear plastic bags labeled “GOODSEED Mung Bean Sprouts” “Keep Refrigerated” with a UPC code of “21111 25871” produced on or after May 8, 2015.

10-lb bags of soybean sprouts in black plastic bags labeled with a sticker “GOODSEED Soy Bean Sprouts” produced on or after May 8, 2015.

10-lb bags of mung bean sprouts in clear plastic bags labeled with a sticker “GOODSEED Mung Bean Sprouts” produced on or after May 8, 2015.

These items were distributed to retail stores in Virginia, Maryland and New Jersey.

The contamination was discovered through surveillance monitoring coordinated by the Virginia Rapid Response Team (RRT), Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. Testing by the Virginia Division of Consolidated Laboratory Services revealed the presence of Listeria monocytogenes in the product.

Good Seed not so good: Sprouts recalled for Listeria

Good Seed Inc. of Springfield, Virginia has issued a recall of soybean and mung bean sprouts for possible listeria contamination.

seed_packets_small-300x225The company issued the recall on its one-, two- and ten-pound products produced on or after April 1.

The contamination was discovered after sampling by the state Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services Food Safety Program.

Consumers who bought the soybean and mung bean sprouts in Virginia, Maryland, New Jersey or North Carolina should return them to the store for a full refund.

This is the second recall for soybean sprouts from a company in Virginia.

Not so wholesome: Illinois food company agrees to stop production of contaminated sprouts

On April 22, 2015, the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois entered a consent decree of permanent injunction against Wholesome Soy Products Inc., of Chicago, Illinois, owner Julia Trinh, and manager Paul Trinh, following multiple findings of contaminated food and environmental samples by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Wholesome_Soy_Products_logoThe consent decree prohibits Wholesome Soy Products from receiving, processing, manufacturing, preparing, packing, holding and distributing ready-to-eat mung bean and soybean sprouts. The company sold its products to wholesale distributors and retail stores in Illinois.

“It is FDA’s responsibility to ensure that appropriate action is taken when we conduct inspections and find results that could put consumers at risk,” said Melinda K. Plaisier, the FDA’s associate commissioner for regulatory affairs. “Agreeing to the consent decree is a first step in the right direction for this company.”

This action follows a multi-agency collaboration among the FDA, U.S. Department of Justice, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Illinois Department of Health.

In August 2014, during a routine inspection of the company, the FDA collected environmental and product samples that tested positive for Listeria monocytogenes (L. mono), a foodborne pathogen that can cause serious illness or even death in vulnerable groups including elderly adults and those with impaired immune systems (such as HIV/AIDS, cancer, diabetes, kidney disease and transplant patients). In pregnant women, L. mono can cause miscarriage, stillbirth and serious illness or death in newborn babies.

On Aug. 28, 2014, Wholesome Soy Products agreed to voluntarily recall and temporarily stop production of their sprout products. The company reported that they cleaned and sanitized their facility. They also hired an independent consultant to collect and test several samples that reportedly came back negative for L. mono. They resumed operations on Sept. 15, 2014, after making these corrections.

Later that month, the company was notified of an outbreak of human infections with a strain of L. monolinked to strains found in the samples previously collected by the FDA during its inspection of the company. According to the CDC, there were four cases in Illinois and one in Michigan. Of those five patients, all were hospitalized and two died.

The FDA began a follow-up inspection of Wholesome Soy Products in October 2014 to verify the effectiveness of the company’s corrective actions. Nine samples taken by FDA inspectors tested positive for L. mono. Due to these findings, the FDA concluded that sprouts could not be safely manufactured by the company in that environment.

In November 2014, the company agreed to voluntarily shut down operations, and the Illinois Department of Public Health oversaw the company’s voluntary destruction of their remaining inventory. The CDC closed its investigation in January 2015 and no further cases of illness in connection to the company have been reported.

The FDA, an agency within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, protects the public health by assuring the safety, effectiveness, and security of human and veterinary drugs, vaccines and other biological products for human use, and medical devices. The agency also is responsible for the safety and security of our nation’s food supply, cosmetics, dietary supplements, products that give off electronic radiation, and for regulating tobacco products.


It’s not organic or conventional it’s will it make you barf?

I’ve been drawn into these debates before, and concluded they are mindnumbing.

sprout.santa_.barf_.xmas_1-300x254Yes, organic probably causes a disproportionate number of food safety recalls, but it’s not the production method, it’s the producer.

Either they know about dangerous microorganisms and take steps to reduce them, or they don’t.

 The Western Producer says the “refreshingly candid comments of a University of Saskatchewan professor (Stuart Smyth) interviewed by WP reporter Dan Yates provoked lively discussion.

Except, if accurately quoted, they were as much bullshit as the good professor claims is at the root of organic outbreaks.

Smyth responded to one critic by stating, “In 2011, organic cucumbers containing a lethal level of E. coli were sold in Europe, resulting in over 4,000 cases of illness and 50 deaths. Colleagues of mine at the FAO reported that by the third day of the story, the powerful European organic industry had pressured the media into removing the word organic from all stories. Sadly, removing the word organic contributed to thousands of additional cases of illness and death, as European consumers had no idea it was the organic food that was killing them.

“I stand by my claim: organic food is the most dangerous and unsafe food on the market today. If you want to eat food that will kill you, eat organic.”

Yes, cucumbers were initially fingered as the source of an E. coli O104 outbreak that killed 53 and sickened 4,400 in Europe in 2011, but the source was ultimately determined to be fenugreek sprout seeks imported from Egypt.

If you’re going to cast stones, get it right.