When the environment for growing alfalfa sprouts goes badly, more dangerous pathogens than just the one can grow.  

That’s what may have happened last summer at Snow White Food Products in Brooklyn, NY.  There was a recall last August after the New York Department of Agriculture and Markets discovered, during routine sampling and testing, possible Salmonella contamination.

But that was not all that was going on.

U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) inspectors were also on the scene last Aug. 19 and 24, and Sept. 1; and FDA found conditions were also ripe for the growth of Listeria monocytogenes.

That was not disclosed at the time when Snow White recalled alfalfa sprouts packaged in 3.5-ounce plastic clamshell containers. Production was shut down for a time to give Snow White time to figure out the source of the contamination.  There were no illnesses reported in connection with the Snow White recall.

FDA this week released a Jan. 7 warning letter to Snow White that reveals more about the conditions inside the plant when the recall occurred.

In the warning letter, FDA reported observing the following insanitary conditions:

  • According to the thermometer in the cooler, the temperature was 46˚F. Finished sprouts should be refrigerated at or below 40˚F to reduce the potential for growth of pathogens, which may be present. Listeria monocytogenes is a pathogenic bacterium that grows at temperatures such as 46˚F and can result in a severe illness called invasive listeriosis. Immune compromised individuals such as infants, the elderly, and transplant recipients are more susceptible. In pregnant women, listeriosis can lead to miscarriage or stillbirth.   

  • The area between the tumbler and the drum quadrants had not been adequately cleaned and sanitized, as evidenced by dirt and grime observed. These conditions can foster colonization of pathogens such as Listeria monocytogenes.

  • The air intake for the fan used to agitate sprouts at the rinse vat bubbler brought in air from an area in which a dead mouse, as well as dust and dirt, were observed.   These conditions create the potential for pathogens and dirt to be spread from the air to the sprouts.

  • Two dead end pipes of approximately six to nine inches long were observed as part of the water supply system piping.  FDA recommended that Snow White eliminate these dead ends because of the potential for accumulation of stagnant water and other impurities posing a possible site for pathogen growth and accumulations.

  • Hoses containing stagnant water were observed on the floor. These hoses were used to connect the water supply pipes to the sprout misting system. Pathogens or filth from the floor could get into the hoses and grow in the stagnant water and then be spread to the sprouts through the misting system. FDA recommended that Snow White drain and sanitize these hoses and store them off the floor.

  • The PVC pipe utilized to fill the rinse vat with potable city water terminated approximately 24 inches below the flood level of the vat, providing no possible air gap. FDA recommended that Snow White either add an air gap or a backflow prevention device because of the potential contamination from backflow.