UPDATE May 16, 2016: A spokeswoman for Pacific Coast Fruit Co. responded to Food Safety News today regarding the outbreak statement the company posted May 6 and later removed from its website. “This alert was pulled from our website Saturday pending confirmation of some additional information from Taylor. We are sorry for any inconvenience this posting may have caused,” Jaynelle Nash, director of value added sales and marketing, said in a email.
Government and industry entities failed in April to reveal that both were investigating a cluster of Salmonella illnesses in which at least five out of six victims reported eating Taylor Farms Organic Kale Medley Power Greens Mix purchased at various Sam’s Club locations.
After a notice on another company’s website — Pacific Coast Fruit Co. of Portland — brought the situation to light, Taylor Farms’ chairman and CEO Bruce Taylor confirmed that Minnesota officials had notified him about the investigation. However, it is not clear to whom Taylor issued his May 6 statement, which was still not available on the Taylor Farms website as of May 15.
Taylor’s statement, provided to Food Safety News on May 14, says:
“On Thursday, May 5th, Taylor Farms was informed by the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) and Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA) of an investigation of reported foodborne illness.
“In April, six people with Salmonella Enteritidis infections, with the same rare DNA fingerprint pattern, were reported to the MDH. All of those infected are from the state of Minnesota. All are recovering.
“The FDA is not requiring any action from Taylor Farms and we are not issuing any formal recalls. We will continue to work with the MDH and MDA regarding this issue.
“The safety and health of the consumers who buy our products has always and will always be the highest priority for us. We will continue to strive to deliver the industry highest quality, safest produce in the industry.
“Consumers that have any questions or concerns can call Taylor Farms at 1 (855) 455-0098.”
Although Taylor did not reference a specific product or where it was distributed, the Pacific Coast Fruit Co. notice named Sam’s Club and said the retailer pulled Taylor Farms Organic Kale Medley Power Greens Mix from shelves nationwide on April 4.
The Pacific Coast Fruit notice, dated May 6, was available on the company’s website May 14, but has since been removed. The notice carried the headline “Taylor Farms-Organic Kale Medley Recall” and was addressed to “our customers and the Pacific Coast Fruit Team.”
“We are sending out this announcement in response to the recall notice of Organic Kale Medley ‘Power Greens Mix’ from Taylor Farms. The product is being recalled for potential contamination with Salmonella. At this point this outbreak appears to be confined to one product, one state, Minnesota, and one retailer, Sam’s Club,” the Pacific Coast Fruit notice stated.
Pacific Coast officials stated in the May 6 notice they had verified their company had not received any of the implicated product.
“The Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) and the Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA) are investigating an outbreak of foodborne illnesses associated with eating Taylor Farms Organic Kale Medley ‘power greens’ mix in Minnesota. The mix contains spinach, kale, chard, and shredded carrots,” according to the Pacific Coast Fruit notice.
Minnesota officials did not respond to weekend requests for comment on the situation. Similarly, no one from Pacific Coast Fruit or Sam’s Club responded this weekend to requests for comment.
The Pacific Coast Fruit notice said six people with Salmonella enteritidis infections, all with the same rare DNA fingerprint pattern, were reported to MDH in April. The victims ranged in age from 7 to 69 and their illnesses began between April 3 and April 26. One person was hospitalized, and all are recovering, according to Pacific Coast Fruit.
“Five of the ill people in Minnesota reported eating Taylor Farms Organic Kale Medley purchased at several Sam’s Club locations, and the source of the sixth person’s illness is under investigation,” Pacific Coast Fruit’s notice said.
An external communications spokesman for Taylor Farms said May 15 that the Salinas, CA, company did not need to issue a recall.
“No recall was needed because the issue being investigated was from back in late March early April. So, independent of the findings of the investigation, the product is no longer in the market place due to shelf-life limitations,” the Taylor Farms spokesman said.
The public’s right to know
The failure of public health officials and corporate entities to announce the spike in Salmonella cases and the subsequent investigation is the latest incident in what one food safety professional says is a disturbing, decade-long trend.
After the deadly E. coli outbreak in 2006 that was linked to bagged fresh spinach, companies have increasingly demanded governmental agencies provide confirmation results from time-consuming follow-up laboratory tests before issuing voluntary product recalls, said Douglas Powell, former professor at Kansas State University’s Department of Diagnostic Medicine/Pathobiology.
Powell, who now lives in Australia, is publisher of barfblog.com, which has been monitoring and publicizing foodborne illness outbreaks since 2006, coined the phrase “leafy green cone of silence” to describe the lack of transparency on the part of government and industry in the decade since the spinach outbreak.
“This situation fits the pattern,” Powell told Food Safety News May 15. “It’s part of a bigger picture about the question of when to go public about outbreak investigations.
“There’s a question of public health. I don’t care that the product’s not on the shelves any more. The public has a right and a need to know about these incidents.”
Bill Marler, partner at the Seattle law firm Marler Clark LLP, had similar concerns. Marler has been representing victims of foodborne illnesses since the 1993 E. coli outbreak traced to undercooked hamburgers served by the Jack in The Box chain. He provided testimony to Congress during the drafting of the Food Safety Modernization Act.
“My main concern is the lack of transparency, and that’s not just a comment on Taylor Farms, it’s a comment on FDA, the Minnesota departments of health and agriculture and a comment on the CDC,” Marler said May 15. “I think that anytime, especially when there are illnesses involved, I think the public has an absolute right to know what’s going on.
“My assumption is that someone’s determined that the product is no longer in the marketplace because it’s a perishable product and the public’s no longer at risk.While I appreciate that, it’s not a reason to not let consumers know.
“In order for the free market to work, in order for consumers to know what products are safe or safer, the companies and the government have a responsibility to educate the consumer.
“When they withhold that kind of information, for whatever justifiable reason they think they have, it doesn’t give (consumers) the information to know how to protect themselves and their families and also calls into question public health’s commitment to the public’s health.”
Editor’s note: Bill Marler is the publisher of Food Safety News.
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