Federal public health authorities reported Friday that a sample of water run-off collected from an Illinois sprout farm matches an outbreak strain of Salmonella that has sickened 125 people.
But the grower whose sprouts are implicated disputes the test results. In a story in Medill Reports, a news site produced by Northwestern University’s Medill School, Tiny Greens owner Bill Bagby criticized tests by the FDA and the Illinois Department of Public Health as not comprehensive.
Tiny Greens Organic Farms of Urbana, IL, recalled specific lots of its sprouts on Dec. 29, 2010, two days after the Food and Drug Administration announced the sprouts were potentially contaminated and the possible source of a widespread Salmonella outbreak involving Jimmy John’s sandwich restaurants.
In Friday’s update of its investigation into that outbreak, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said 125 individuals in 22 states and the District of Columbia may have been infected with the outbreak strain, Salmonella serotype I 4,,12:i:- The previous count was 112 people in 18 states.
The CDC said testing by the FDA of one environmental (water run-off) sample at the organic farm “identified a Salmonella serotype that is indistinguishable from the outbreak strain,” but that product samples tested by the FDA have been negative.
In its own update on the investigation, the FDA also stated that the one environmental 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.”
Bagby, in an interview with Medill Reports, insisted that the positive test is not a genetic match. “They had only run one enzyme, meaning they do not have a DNA match,” Bagby was quoted by the news site. “For it to be the same bug, they need to need to run at least two enzymes.”
The FDA said that Tiny Greens continues to cooperate with FDA and IDPH in addressing “this public health issue.” It said Bagby “has committed to taking full corrective and preventive action including ceasing production” and that the inspection remains open. It also said “on-going oversight will include assuring that corrective actions are implemented before distribution resumes.”
Meanwhile, the CDC repeated its warning that the multi-state outbreak of Salmonella is linked to eating Tiny Greens alfalfa sprouts or “spicy sprouts” at Jimmy John’s restaurant outlets and, once again, cautioned consumers not to eat the sprouts and restaurants not to serve them.
The investigation update says 65 people in Illinois, 22 in Missouri and 12 in Indiana have been identified as infected with the outbreak strain. It also reports three cases in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, two cases in Tennessee and Massachusetts and single cases in Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Georgia, Hawaii, Iowa, Kentucky, Nebraska, Nevada, New York, Oregon, South Carolina, South Dakota, Virginia and Washington D.C. Twenty four percent of those infected were hospitalized. The case patients range in age from 1 to 85 years of age.
The CDC added the caveat that because this particular strain of Salmonella commonly occurs in the United State, some of the cases identified may not be related to this outbreak.
Since 1996, there have been at least 30 reported outbreaks of foodborne illness, mostly Salmonella and E. coli infections, associated with different types of raw and lightly cooked sprouts.
Earlier this week, Jimmy John’s announced it would begin using clover sprouts instead of alfalfa sprouts on its sandwiches because they are smoother, and thus easier to sanitize. Contaminated seed is typically the cause of problems in sprouts, according to the FDA.