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Salmonella Not Found in Idaho Sprout Tests

Tests on packages of sprouts, seeds, wash water and processing surfaces at an Idaho sprout-growing operation did not turn up evidence of Salmonella that federal and state regulators have attributed to an outbreak that sickened at least 25 people in five states.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration confirmed those test results, which were first reported Wednesday by the Spokesman-Review newspaper in Spokane.

Stephanie Yao, spokeswoman for the FDA, explained that negative test results do not rule out sprouts from Evergreen Fresh Produce as the source of the outbreak. She said the investigation is ongoing.

Twice on Wednesday the FDA acknowledged there was no microbiologic evidence linking implicated products or a producer to an outbreak. In an unrelated case, the FDA said tests at a South Carolina raw milk dairy, named as the likely source of Campylobacter infections, detected no traces of the outbreak strain of bacteria.

In the sprouts case, epidemiologic investigations in June by local, state and federal public health agencies concluded that alfalfa sprouts and spicy sprouts (a mix of alfalfa, clover and radish sprouts) grown by Evergreen Produce in Moyie, Idaho, were the likely cause of a cluster of Salmonella infections, primarily in the midland Northwest.

Nine people in Washington state, seven people in Montana, three in Idaho, and one in both North Dakota and New Jersey were stricken with the identical strain of Salmonella Enteritidis, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In the search for a common source, the initial exposure information from the first 13 confirmed case patients showed that nine (69 percent) had reported eating alfalfa sprouts during the week before the onset of their symptoms, according to the FDA. The background rate of sprout consumption in the U.S. population is 4.4 percent, so the 69 percent exposure rate was significant epidemiologic evidence, and raw sprouts are a known vehicle for pathogenic bacteria. Traceback information indicated the sprouts the case patients had eaten were grown by Evergreen Produce.

At that point, FDA issued a consumer advisory warning people not to eat Evergreen Produce brand alfalfa sprouts and spicy sprouts, the suspect varieties.

Nadine Scharf, owner of the Idaho sprouts growing operation, initially refused to recall her spouts without “concrete proof” that they had caused the illnesses, but later complied with public health authorities’ request to withdraw the sprouts from the market.

Scharf told the Spokesman Review she has had to lay off 10 of her 14 workers and sell three vehicles to raise cash to pay her bills. She continues to produce small amounts of mung bean, clover and broccoli sprouts, she told the newspaper.

© Food Safety News
  • hhamil

    Is it only a coincidence that the FDA took 13 days from start to finish to the release of the results in the Tucker Adkins Dairy case cited in this article?
    Or could it be that the FDA needed to make certain that it had a single message it was proclaiming?
    My, oh my, doesn’t that sound just like the actions of those accused of causing an outbreak…that Bill Marler regularly castigates?
    Contrast the FDA’s behavior in these 2 cases with the actions it took in the Bullock’s Bar-B-Q outbreak in 2010. The same NC epidemiologist who is handling the Tucker Adkins Dairy found conclusive epidemiological evidence that the vehicle for the salmonella was meringue made with pasteurized eggs from a single source. He even had a sample of the meringue that tested positive for the implicated salmonella.
    All the FDA and FSIS did was go to the plant, review its HACCP plan and drop the matter. When it was learned that the salmonella was indistinguishable from that in the Wright County Egg outbreak, could have come from eggs contaminated in that outbreak, the FDA took no additional action despite the fact the linked pasteurized eggs were in huge lots and had a 6 month shelf life.
    Not only was there no press release nor warning in the Bullock’s Bar-B-Q case, there was no attempt to gather samples from other sources for testing and the FDA refused to release the names of the companies involved to me without a FOIA request!
    Is it a coincidence that uncovering a problem in the pasteurization would have raised serious questions about the FDA’s and CDC’s recommendation for making meringue and the
    FDA’s policy on the handling of contaminated eggs would then have been questioned?
    Is it a coincidence that the company involved was a large multinational?
    Last, but not least, isn’t anyone going to ask to see the traceback that shows that someone in NJ ate sprouts from Idaho?
    Come on, FSN, these are serious issues. Let’s see some good old fashioned journalistic skepticism! Put your Pulitzer Prize winning writers to work on something that could have very significant implications.

  • Steve

    Good questions, Harry — glad to see you here back in action!

  • Minkpuppy

    The epidemiological links were made and almost always made by Local and State health authorities, not the FDA. They look for a food in common that is the most likely culprit whether it’s hamburgers, bean sprouts or raw milk. FDA rarely determines the source of the outbreak all by themselves–mostly they come in after all the grunt work is done and take samples once CDC and local guys connect all the dots for them. They don’t do that much hands on work–they rely on the local health agencies to collect the information and do it for them. FDA isn’t like FSIS who has inspectors in every plant that can help gather data.
    And yes, it can take up to two weeks to get final test results and for someone to give a press release. I’ve waited that long for confirmed results on residue samples from FSIS labs. Sometimes multiple tests have to be done to confirm the results and that takes time. Also, these most likely weren’t the only samples being tested at the FDA labs at the same time. FDA labs are probably not as well staffed or stocked as FSIS labs due to the infrequency of their inspections, so it’s likely that they could have loads of samples backed up waiting to be analyzed. They are analyzed on a first in, first out basis so if it got in late, it’s gonna get be one of the last to be done.
    You also have to figure in the fact that the persons responsible for announcing this stuff probably have a stack of paperwork from a gazillion other unrelated recalls, incidents and outbreaks sitting on their desk to deal with and all of them are probably stamped “URGENT”. The government is slow about these things and there’s dozens of hoops that the regulators have to jump through to get anything done. Trust me. I deal with it everyday.
    Food has never been FDA’s priority because they’ve never been given proper funding. Without that funding, you can’t properly train inspectors or effectively regulate the industry. FSIS’s budget for food safety is much bigger than FDA. The FDA increase you’re seeing is due to FSMA but it won’t last if Congress doesn’t fund it.
    You can twist it around all you want but the bottom line is this: Tucker Adkins most likely knowingly sold product to customers that lived across the state line (conveniently, she has no record of their last names or addresses) and tried to slide around the regs by having it delivered by courier. Sorry, it’s still considered to be technically entering commerce if it’s been sold to a customer in another state regardless of how it’s delivered. You may not like it, but that’s the law.
    FOIA information doesn’t always tell you everything. It leaves out the nuances of the laws as you should well know by now.

  • Harry Hamil

    Is it only a coincidence that the FDA took 13 days from start to finish to the release of the results in the Tucker Adkins Dairy case cited in this article?
    Or could it be that the FDA needed to make certain that it had a single message it was proclaiming?
    My, oh my, doesn’t that sound just like the actions of those accused of causing an outbreak…that Bill Marler regularly castigates?
    Contrast the FDA’s behavior in these 2 cases with the actions it took in the Bullock’s Bar-B-Q outbreak in 2010. The same NC epidemiologist who is handling the Tucker Adkins Dairy found conclusive epidemiological evidence that the vehicle for the salmonella was meringue made with pasteurized eggs from a single source. He even had a sample of the meringue that tested positive for the implicated salmonella.
    All the FDA and FSIS did was go to the plant, review its HACCP plan and drop the matter. When it was learned that the salmonella was indistinguishable from that in the Wright County Egg outbreak, could have come from eggs contaminated in that outbreak, the FDA took no additional action despite the fact the linked pasteurized eggs were in huge lots and had a 6 month shelf life.
    Not only was there no press release nor warning in the Bullock’s Bar-B-Q case, there was no attempt to gather samples from other sources for testing and the FDA refused to release the names of the companies involved to me without a FOIA request!
    Is it a coincidence that uncovering a problem in the pasteurization would have raised serious questions about the FDA’s and CDC’s recommendation for making meringue and the
    FDA’s policy on the handling of contaminated eggs would then have been questioned?
    Is it a coincidence that the company involved was a large multinational?
    Last, but not least, isn’t anyone going to ask to see the traceback that shows that someone in NJ ate sprouts from Idaho?
    Come on, FSN, these are serious issues. Let’s see some good old fashioned journalistic skepticism! Put your Pulitzer Prize winning writers to work on something that could have very significant implications.

  • hhamil

    Minkpuppy,
    Like every apologist for the FDA I’ve ever read, you selectively respond to the issues raised (e.g., the key issue of difference in handling of outbreaks). In addition, you tell us how we should let the FDA off the hook because it is underfunded, etc. And what is the result of letting them off the hook? Little but more often ZERO accountability.
    How about a contest, Minkpuppy? I’ll cite pitiful performance by the FDA and you show me accountability. We can start with the excruciating mismanagement of the 2008 salmonella outbreak that was wrongly attributed to tomatoes and which was almost certainly NOT a single outbreak. I can name farmers who were almost wiped out by the decline in tomato sales when their tomatoes could NOT EVER have been the source of the outbreak.
    Also, let‚Äôs contrast the lack of accountability at the FDA with how those of us who actually grow crops and produce food are treated. In most states, not only do we have accountability, but also full financial liability (plus a surcharge of 1/3 to 1/2 and even higher to fund the well paid plaintiffs’ attorneys like Marler Clark) for whatever happens under the foolishly misapplied doctrine of strict liability. Even if no reasonable person would have ever believed something to have been a hazard or if a completely new hazard showed itself for the first time, under strict liability, if it can be traced back to us, we owe all of the damages.
    Will the FDA let us off the hook because we are underfunded? No! Why? Because not only is that not an acceptable defense but also every single farmer I know is underfunded. In fact, of the scores farmers I know, only a handful net even close to the minimum wage. Rather, we all work 60, 70, 80+ hours/week.
    Of yes and don’t forget the “properly” trained inspectors who make several to many times what the people actually doing the work make. The last I checked, I believe an FDA inspector was billed at $95/hour including travel time.
    As for ‚Äúproper funding,‚Äù give me a break! The FSMA won’t ever be fully funded because the actual cost of just Section 105 Standards for Produce Safety is many times the under-estimates made when the HR 2749, S 510 and HR 2751 were being considered. How much will it cost to inspect the never estimated but surely in the hundreds of thousands of farms growing fruits and vegetables in the US? And how about the farms overseas? And what will be the benefit? In March 2010, the Alliance for Food and Farming released a study showing that between 1990 and 2007 only 2.2 percent of all of the outbreaks were associated with the growing, packing, shipping or processing of produce.
    Finally, your statements about Tucker Adkins show your lack of understanding of both what occurred and what interstate commerce is.
    First, how many retail stores keep a list of each of their customers and what they sold them? Maybe a few high end, limited customer base retailers but not any one else! You act like it was a deliberate act to cover things up.
    Second, Tucker Adkins Dairy did NOT hire the courier to deliver milk to people in NC. Had they done so, the FDA would have rightly hung them. In fact, the FDA has been trying to force SC raw milk dairies to ascertain where their customers live and refuse to sell to them if they are not residents of SC. The FDA hasn’t succeeded because the dairies can sell at retail to anyone. Wholesale is a different matter.
    Rather, what usually happens here in NC (as in GA where the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund lawsuit on this issue is currently working its way through Federal court), residents of our fair state organize themselves and take turns or hire someone to go to SC to purchase the milk for them and bring it back to them.
    So, Minkpuppy, next time get your facts straight before accusing someone.
    As always, I will happily discuss everything I have written (and publish corrections of any mistakes shown to me) if written to at healthyfoodcoalition@gmail.com.

  • Harry Hamil

    Minkpuppy,
    Like every apologist for the FDA I’ve ever read, you selectively respond to the issues raised (e.g., the key issue of difference in handling of outbreaks). In addition, you tell us how we should let the FDA off the hook because it is underfunded, etc. And what is the result of letting them off the hook? Little but more often ZERO accountability.
    How about a contest, Minkpuppy? I’ll cite pitiful performance by the FDA and you show me accountability. We can start with the excruciating mismanagement of the 2008 salmonella outbreak that was wrongly attributed to tomatoes and which was almost certainly NOT a single outbreak. I can name farmers who were almost wiped out by the decline in tomato sales when their tomatoes could NOT EVER have been the source of the outbreak.
    Also, let‚Äôs contrast the lack of accountability at the FDA with how those of us who actually grow crops and produce food are treated. In most states, not only do we have accountability, but also full financial liability (plus a surcharge of 1/3 to 1/2 and even higher to fund the well paid plaintiffs’ attorneys like Marler Clark) for whatever happens under the foolishly misapplied doctrine of strict liability. Even if no reasonable person would have ever believed something to have been a hazard or if a completely new hazard showed itself for the first time, under strict liability, if it can be traced back to us, we owe all of the damages.
    Will the FDA let us off the hook because we are underfunded? No! Why? Because not only is that not an acceptable defense but also every single farmer I know is underfunded. In fact, of the scores farmers I know, only a handful net even close to the minimum wage. Rather, we all work 60, 70, 80+ hours/week.
    Of yes and don’t forget the “properly” trained inspectors who make several to many times what the people actually doing the work make. The last I checked, I believe an FDA inspector was billed at $95/hour including travel time.
    As for ‚Äúproper funding,‚Äù give me a break! The FSMA won’t ever be fully funded because the actual cost of just Section 105 Standards for Produce Safety is many times the under-estimates made when the HR 2749, S 510 and HR 2751 were being considered. How much will it cost to inspect the never estimated but surely in the hundreds of thousands of farms growing fruits and vegetables in the US? And how about the farms overseas? And what will be the benefit? In March 2010, the Alliance for Food and Farming released a study showing that between 1990 and 2007 only 2.2 percent of all of the outbreaks were associated with the growing, packing, shipping or processing of produce.
    Finally, your statements about Tucker Adkins show your lack of understanding of both what occurred and what interstate commerce is.
    First, how many retail stores keep a list of each of their customers and what they sold them? Maybe a few high end, limited customer base retailers but not any one else! You act like it was a deliberate act to cover things up.
    Second, Tucker Adkins Dairy did NOT hire the courier to deliver milk to people in NC. Had they done so, the FDA would have rightly hung them. In fact, the FDA has been trying to force SC raw milk dairies to ascertain where their customers live and refuse to sell to them if they are not residents of SC. The FDA hasn’t succeeded because the dairies can sell at retail to anyone. Wholesale is a different matter.
    Rather, what usually happens here in NC (as in GA where the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund lawsuit on this issue is currently working its way through Federal court), residents of our fair state organize themselves and take turns or hire someone to go to SC to purchase the milk for them and bring it back to them.
    So, Minkpuppy, next time get your facts straight before accusing someone.
    As always, I will happily discuss everything I have written (and publish corrections of any mistakes shown to me) if written to at healthyfoodcoalition@gmail.com.

  • Minkpuppy

    Harry,
    Please share what information you have that Carol Adkins didn’t know that someone else hired the courier. None of the articles I’ve seen mention anything about it.
    Now on to the raw milk:
    Here’s the regulation on the mandatory pasteurization of milk entering interstate commerce. I recall you asking for one:
    http://law.justia.com/cfr/title21/21-8.0.1.5.48.4.1.2.html
    The law specifically states that milk has to be pasteurized before going into interstate commerce. The Tucker Adkins product was sold to out of state customers whether Carol Adkins knew it or not. It was then picked up and transported by someone other than those customers across state lines. That courier could then be construed to be a shipper/distributer. That’s how the federal government interprets it, regardless of how your or I or anyone else defines interstate commerce.
    FDA sees someone other than the customer picking up raw milk and acting as a shipper/transporter who then delivers to the out-of-state customer. Is the courier being charged with anything? They should be!
    If Carol Adkins didn’t know what was going on, then she should have more careful in light of the fact that she did live so close to the state border. She said herself that she doesn’t even know the names of her customers and only accepts cash. She’s far too trusting of a courier that’s coming to pick up 60 gallons of milk. Did she never question where the milk was being delivered or did she not want to know? I would have been suspicious myself. How were these customers ordering the milk? Through emails, phone calls, what? An out of state phone call would be a definite tipoff. These are valid questions the FDA is going to ask and she’s going to have to come up with some convincing answers to get out of this mess. FDA is not going to accept that she didn’t know what was going on.
    In conclusion:
    As far as the ugliness goes–Lay off. I’m here to discuss just like you are. You’re making assumptions about who I AM and WHAT MY opinions are just because I don’t tow your party line. Sorry, but the majority of ppl reading FSN are probably public health officials like myself so its likely someone is going to disagree with you once in awhile. So if you treat me with respect, I’ll give you respect. But don’t expect it when you go on the attack. I have a right to my opinion just like you do.
    I know perfectly well what “interstate commerce” means so lets not even go there. I work for FSIS and deal with it everyday. That means I work for the federal government and enforce regulations regarding federally inspected meat, which by the way, has to be inspected by FSIS before entering interstate commerce (with some new exemptions for state inspected programs). I think that makes me qualified to discuss “interstate commerce”.
    To clarify, FSIS does not inspect fresh eggs and egg farms–thats strictly FDA jurisdiction. FSIS only inspect egg products such as dried eggs, pasteurized eggs, and egg beaters type stuff and another part of the USDA does the egg grading. FDA covers egg farms and fresh eggs. Stupidity to split it up if you ask me. FDA knows nothing about animal agriculture and apparently nothing about crops either. If FSIS did fresh eggs, the inspector would be there everyday and the Wright Eggs fiasco may not have happened or at least been a helluva lot smaller. Grading and inspection are not the same thing–graders are only looking at egg quality and not sanitation of the farm. The graders jurisdiction was limited to the grading facility part of the farm. Still, from what I remember, their sanitation reports were ignored as well so I’d say their superiors have something to answer for. Since that’s not part of my subagency I can’t say for sure what happened there. Maybe they did pass the reports to FDA and FDA did nothing. Can’t say.
    I’m no apologist for FDA. I was just explaining from my experience how the government and especially FDA seems to work because that’s what I deal with everyday as a fed. It was for the benefit of everyone who doesn’t deal with them daily. No need to get so hostile.
    I’ve always thought FDA inspection is a joke. I have dual FDA/FSIS jurisdiction plants that have NEVER seen an FDA inspector in several years of producing FDA product. One even got a FREAKING PHONE CALL from an FDA inspector telling them they had to write a seperate seafood HACCP plan for their seafood containing products and the jerk had NEVER EVEN SEEN THEIR HACCP PLAN (which does cover seafood along with their FSIS inspected products). He/She was relying on something the state inspector said. That’s freaking ridiculous. The way they handle things is pitiful compared to FSIS and always has been. I don’t disagree with you on that. FSMA was supposed to give them those tools but the jackasses in Congress have seen to it that it never happens. We agree on that.
    FDA products produced in dual jurisdiction plants are probably safer because the FSIS inspector is on the premises daily and it forces them to keep their act clean.

  • Minkpuppy

    Well, I had a nice long rebuttal typed up, then the website went wonky and it disappeared.
    I can only go by what’s presented in the article so lay off the snottiness Harry. Last I checked this is America and I have a right to my opinion based on the information here. If the information is incorrect then provide the information to back up what you say. Raw milkies have concocted a number of schemes to circumvent the laws so why should this case be any different? Provide some links to the information you have instead of jumping down my throat and Making derogatory comments. FSN reports the info they have- If you are interested in correcting that information, then send the author the info you have instead of throwing hissy fits in the comments.
    Don’t tell me I don’t know what interstate commerce is either. I’m an FSIS inspector with nearly 17 yrs experience in the Agency and 20 yrs total working in federally inspected plants. I deal with product being sent into interstate commerce everyday. I think I know what interstate commerce is. In fact, I’m uniquely qualified to discuss it. What’s your qualifications? You assume I don’t know because my definition is the federal govt interpretation and not yours. Sorry but that’s the angle I’m coming from. I’m a regulator and that’s how I approach things. You don’t have to like it or agree with it and it ain’t gonna keep me up at night if you don’t like me.
    How does explaining from my personal experience how the FDA and government works in general make me an FDA apologist? It is what it is, right or wrong. Its the reality of the situation. I know all about the flaws of FDA- I hear it everday from my dual jurisdiction plants. One has been operating for 15 freaking years and has never had an FDA inspector set foot in their plant. The most they can be bothered with is a PHONE call telling the plant they need to write a seafood haccp plan when they’ve never seen the plan they do have (which already addresses seafood). FDA inspection is a farce but don’t blame them, or FDA administration. BLAME CONGRESS. Congress gives FDA its authority. It operates the way it does because it wasn’t set up properly to begin with and has been ignored by Congress. That’s not being an apologist-that’s a fact. I personally think its screwed up that every action they take apparently has to go to a judge. FSIS only takes that step after lengthy in depth investigations that uncover enough evidence that possible criminal activity has occurred. Go to Congress with your grievances. Vote out the idiots that arew there now. I plan to vote against anyone with a D or an R next to their names. I’m disgusted with all of them and the rampant stupidity that seems to be infecting the entire country.
    For your information, FSIS had nothing to do with the Wright Egg fiasco because it’s not their jurisdiction. FSIS does not inspect fresh eggs and never has. They only inspect processed egg, meat and poultry products. The USDA personnel at the Wright Farms facility were graders and are under the jurisdiction of a completely different subagency. They deal with egg quality only–FDA was responsible for the farms conditions and should be held accountable. The grader’s wrote sanitation reports that were apparently ignored. That’s not the grader’s fault-they did their jobs. Their superiors dropped the ball. I don’t know what came out of it because it’s not an FSIS issue. I’m not privy to what goes on in the other subagencies. Whatever directives and notices the graders operate under are not FSIS issuances. To quote you “Get your facts straight”.
    Its easy for bystanders like you to sit and criticize the job federal regulators are doing when you have no clue what really goes on. Don’t bash the inspectors and investigators. We have to enforce the regs whether we agree with them or not.
    You want accountability? Just what exactly do you want them to do? It isn’t going to be fixed magically overnight. I personally think all food safety responsibility should be stripped from FDA and one seperate, new agency formed combining FSIS responsibilities with all the stuff from all the other piddling agencies that have their fingers in the food safety pie. But that’s a pipe dream and I know it. It sucks being a realist.