October 15, 2019

Sprouts to Blame for Two 2014 Food Poisoning Outbreaks

It’s been 15 years since a United States National Advisory Committee issued a special report on the problem of pathogen contamination in commercially grown sprouts and the associated outbreaks of E. coli, Salmonella and Listeria that have become a chronic foodborne illness risk for consumers. Based on a pair of multi-state food poisoning investigations so far in 2014, the chances of falling seriously ill or dying from eating contaminated raw sprouts is still a threat.

Clover Sprouts CloseupThe latest outbreak confirmed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is associated with mung bean sprouts produced in Chicago by Wholesome Soy Products Inc. Two people died and three other case patients were hospitalized in June, July and August from a strain of Listeria monocytogenes traced to the Illinois food company. According to the latest Listeria sprout outbreak report by the CDC, FDA inspections of the Wholesome Soy Products facility in August and October found Listeria and “unsanitary conditions, many of which were present during both inspections.”  The company has since decided to shut down and federal authorities have warned consumers not to eat any products that were produced by Wholesome Soy. Four of the sprouts Listeria case patients were from Illinois and one was from Michigan. “This investigation is ongoing, and new information will be provided when available,” the CDC said on Nov. 13.

Earlier this year, the CDC alerted consumers, retailers and restaurant chains to to an outbreak of E. coli O121 associated with raw clover sprouts sold by Evergreen Fresh Sprouts of Idaho. By the time the outbreak was declared over on August 1, a total of 19 people in six states had been confirmed as case patients and almost half of them were hospitalized. Eleven of the outbreak victims were from Washington and three were from Idaho. No deaths were reported.

According to documents from the CDC, the sprouts were eaten in sandwiches at several food establishments located in the states of Washington and Idaho. Those places included Jimmy John’s Gourmet Sandwiches locations 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. The documents describe a list of food safety production plant problems the FDA inspectors observed and recorded at Evergreen Fresh Sprouts after the facility was associated with the outbreak.

Attorney Fred Pritzker, who represents victims of foodborne illness across the country, said many of the outbreaks related to consumption of tainted sprouts are caused by contaminated seed lots.  If pathogens are present on or in the seed, warm and most sprouting conditions favor their proliferation, Pritzker said. In sprout-related foodborne illness litigation, Pritzker’s law firm studies what precautions growers take to minimize the risk of contamination.

“These cases can be tragic and we see them over and over,” Pritzker said. “The neglect and unsanitary conditions we’re still finding at some sprout-growing facilities is dangerous and disgusting.”

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