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Sprouts Grower Says FDA Test Results Misleading

It’s misleading to say that water run-off from an Illinois sprouts farm links the farm to a multi-state outbreak of Salmonella, the grower told the online agriculture magazine, The Packer.

In the report published Monday, Tiny Greens Organic Farm owner Bill Bagby told The Packer the sample that tested positive for the outbreak strain was collected outside his indoor growing operation.

“They call it water runoff, but it was runoff from the compost pile outside the building,” Bagby is quoted in The Packer report. “It’s misleading to say it’s environmental. There were 260 samples taken inside the building — spent irrigation water, potable water, sprouts, seeds, floor and wall swabs, packing — and they were all negative for salmonella.”

Tiny Greens of Urbana, IL, recalled alfalfa sprouts Dec. 29 after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the sprouts were potentially contaminated and the possible source of a Salmonella outbreak involving Jimmy John’s sandwich restaurants.  On Jan. 14, the CDC reported that 125 illnesses in 22 states–with 65 in Illinois– involved the same Salmonella type.

In its update on the investigation, the FDA said product samples it tested were negative for Salmonella but one environmental (water run-off) sample had tested positive:  “Through genetic testing this positive sample is indistinguishable from the outbreak strain, using pulsed-field gel electrophoresis with one enzyme. Additional genetic testing is underway.”

The CDC’s update said that because this particular strain of Salmonella commonly occurs in the United States, some cases identified might not be related to the outbreak.  It repeated its warning that consumers should not eat Tiny Greens alfalfa sprouts or spicy sprouts and restaurants should not serve them.

Bagby told The Packer: “The FDA Web page even mentions that since this is such a common form of salmonella, most of these (125) cases are probably not related to the Illinois outbreak.”

“My epidemiologist said it’s not probable that any of my product is contaminated,” Bagby told The Packer reporter. “Possible, yes; but probable, no. I told the FDA and CDCP that if they have a remote feeling it’s possible our products are contaminated, I don’t want to make anybody sick. I told them I am willing to shut down and do a thorough cleaning of this building.”

The Packer reported that after the recall Tiny Greens discarded products worth about $100,000, including 21,000 pounds of bean sprouts.  It said that after a “precautionary deep cleaning” Bagby expects to resume distributing sprouts Jan. 20.

© Food Safety News
  • Doc Mudd

    “…’it was runoff from the compost pile outside the building,’ Bagby is quoted…”
    Organic grower’s compost (read: rotting trash) pile is contaminated with pathogenic salmonella and leaching into the environment, polluting and contaminating everything in sight with organically nurtured salmonella.
    Aw, just a little organic “runoff”, who cares?
    Nice.