January 18, 2019

FDA Inspects Evergreen Fresh Sprouts, Linked to E. coli Outbreak

The FDA has conducted an investigation of Evergreen Fresh Sprouts LLC in May and June of 2014 after an E. coli O121 outbreak was linked to their products. The inspection revealed problems at the facility, including irrigation water dripping from rusty valves directly into sprouting vats containing growing sprouts, and tennis rackets with “scratches, chips, and frayed plastic” being used to scoop mung bean sprouts from the harvester to the conveyer belt.

Raw SproutsThe outbreak has sickened at least 17 people in four states. Forty-seven percent of ill persons have been hospitalized in this outbreak, although no one has developed hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), one of the complications of an E. coli infection. The outbreak case count is as follows: Idaho (3), Michigan (1), Montana (1), Utah (1), and Washington state (10).

State and local epidemiologic investigations indicate a strong link to raw clover sprouts. Eighty-six percent of 14 ill persons reported eating raw clover sprouts the week before they became ill. This is significantly higher than results from a survey of healthy people, in which only 8% ate clover sprouts in the past week.

The sprouts were eaten in sandwiches at several food establishments in Washington and Idaho, including Jimmy John’s in King and Spokane counties, as well as two Pita Pit locations in Spokane County, and a Jimmy John’s location and Daanen’s Deli in Kootenai County. Those restaurants have voluntarily stopped serving sprouts. Traceback analysis found that Evergreen Sprouts supplied sprouts to seven restaurants at which 9 people ate before becoming ill.

Other problems observed at the facility found mold growth and dripping condensate on a water pipe that had separated from the drywall and was attached to the watering system in the sprout growing/harvesting room. Dead leg pipe ends that cannot be flushed were located inside the sprout growing/harvesting room; those pipe provide water to rinse and mist sprouts. An employee used a pitchfork with visible corroded metal and rough welds to transfer mung bean sprouts into plastic tubs. Mung bean sprouts were in direct contact with rusty and corroded clamps used to hold the growing cabin together.

Consumers should not eat any raw clover sprouts from Evergreen Fresh Produce. Raw sprouts can contain bacteria that cause foodborne illness, and the growing conditions used for sprouting are ideal for the growth of bacteria. Children, older adults, pregnant women, and anyone with weakened immune systems should avoid eating raw sprouts of any kind.

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