May 21, 2019

E. coli Sprout Lawsuit Will Consider Unsanitary Conditions Report

The FDA’s Electronic Reading Room contains copies of the actual reports filed by food safety inspectors who recently spent six days inside the production facility at Evergreen Fresh Sprouts LLC of Moyie Springs, Idaho, the company believed by state and federal health officials to be at the center of a sandwich sprout E. coli outbreak in Seattle, Spokane and Coeur d’Alene, Idaho.

Jimmy John’s, Pita Pit and Daanen’s Deli Sprouts were the three restaurant establishments where consumers were infected with the pathogen E. coli O121 and all of those operators suspended sprouts from their menus when authorities warned the public not to eat sprouts from Evergreen Fresh Sprouts until further notice. So far, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has identified 17 case patients sickened in the outbreak, almost half of whom have been hospitalized. The sprouts lawsuit resulting from this outbreak will closely consider conditions at the plant that may have jeopardized food safety.

sprouts-lawsuitAs a baseline, sprouts are a known source of foodborne illness. Seeds and beans need warm and humid conditions to sprout and grow. These conditions are ideal for bacteria growth. Since 1996, at least 30 nationally reported outbreaks of foodborne illness associated with different types of raw and lightly cooked sprouts have occurred. Most of these outbreaks were caused by E. coli and Salmonella. In most sprout outbreaks, the restaurant is not the source of the contamination. It usually happens when the seeds are grown or harvested and is often impossible to wash off, according to the Washington State Department of Health.

During six days of inspection in late May and early June, the FDA observed a number of unsanitary conditions at Evergreen Fresh Sprouts, the same company that received an FDA enforcement action warning letter in 2011. The observations noted in the latest inspection report included water dripping from rusty valves; apparent mold on a dripping pipe; a rusty and corroded watering system; condensate dripping directly into a vat of growing sprouts; beat-up tennis rackets used to scoop mung bean sprouts and a corroded pitchfork used in production.

Quoting directly from the report: “We observed on at least four occasions, condensate and irrigation water dripping from rusty valves directly into sprouting vats containing growing sprouts.”  And again: “We observed rough welds, debris and apparent corroded areas inside the mung bean seed soak vat. This vat was being used to soak seeds on 05/28/14, and an employee was observed using a squeegee with visible corroded metal and non-treated wood to agitate mung bean seeds soaking inside the mung bean seed soak vat during the seed soaking step.”

The vivid inspection findings are now coupled with epidemiology and traceback investigations conducted by local, state, and federal officials that have “indicated that contaminated raw clover sprouts produced by Evergreen Fresh Sprouts, LLC of Idaho are the likely source of this outbreak,” the CDC said in its latest pronouncement on the sprouts E. coli outbreak.

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