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SENATOR GILLIBRAND ANNOUNCES NEW PUSH TO IMPROVE FOOD SAFETY STANDARDS

Gillibrand Introduces Legislation to Consolidate Food Safety Agencies Under One Roof

Gillibrand Proposes New Legislation to Compel Stores with Customer Loyalty Card Programs to Call and Email Customers When Products They Purchased Get Recalled

Washington, DC – As an estimated 3 million New Yorkers get sick from the food they eat each year U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand announced a new push today to prevent foodborne illness and improve food safety standards. The Centers for Disease Control estimates that each year approximately 1 in 6 Americans get sick, 128,000 are hospitalized and 3,000 die of foodborne diseases. According the U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates, nearly a quarter of all cut-up chicken parts are contaminated by Salmonella and another Consumer Reports study found that one third of all chicken breast with Salmonella carry a drug resistant strain of the disease.

Gillibrand is a pushing a new bill introduced last week, the Safe Food Act of 2015, which would consolidate food safety authorities into a single independent food safety agency called the Food Safety Administration. Under the current system, 15 different federal agencies oversee food safety functions including inspections, enforcement, recalls and restrictions on pathogens like Salmonella and E. coli. According to a Government Accountability Agency study, the fragmented and inefficient system is a high risk to the public’s safety.

The proposed consolidated agency would help prevent foodborne illness by allowing food recalls to happen more quickly once illnesses are confirmed, improving inspections, and enhancing enforcement against unsafe food. The Food Safety Administration would also protect and improve the public’s health by focusing resources to prevent and detect foodborne illness before it spreads rather than responding after New Yorkers have already fallen ill.

“Too many New Yorkers are getting sick and even dying from food they trusted was safe,” said Senator Kirsten Gillibrand. “New Yorkers should be able to walk into a grocery store and be confident that the food they are putting on their family’s kitchen table and serving at our schools or in our restaurants is properly inspected and safe to eat. We need to detect foodborne illness and stop it before it spreads rather than scramble to respond after New Yorkers have already fallen ill. My plan would give New York families more peace of mind when they sit down at the kitchen table by reducing bureaucracy and consolidating the 15 federal agencies that oversee food safety under one roof.”

Gillibrand is also proposing new legislation that would require stores to improve customer notification in the event of a food recall. Stores with customer loyalty card programs could use that data to call and email consumers when food they have purchased has been recalled. Gillibrand’s proposed legislation, the Meat and Poultry Recall Notification Act, would grant authority to the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service to require companies to recall dangerous food and notify consumers and local health officials. Gillibrand’s new legislation would also create a 1-page Recall Summary Notice that could be prominently displayed on the store shelf where the recalled food was sold or at the cash register for stores that lack customer loyalty card programs.

“We need to make sure that if dangerous food does end up at the grocery store that it gets recalled, pulled off the shelf and out of freezers faster,” said Senator Kirsten Gillibrand. “Every time you swipe a loyalty card to save a few cents, the grocery store makes a record of what food you’re bringing home. When a recall happens, stores should use that information to call and email people to tell them to not eat the food they have purchased.”

The Safe Food Act of 2015

Senator Gillibrand introduced the Safe Food Act of 2015 to consolidate food safety inspections, enforcement, and labeling under a single independent food safety agency called the Food Safety Administration (FSA). The FSA would implement existing federal food safety law, including inspections, enforcement, standards-setting, and research.

The bill would also require more regular inspections of slaughterhouses and food processing plants; increase oversight of imported foods; establish enforceable performance standards for contaminants in food; require the tracing of foods to point of origin; and analyze new safety monitoring technology in our food system.

Building on the work of the Food Safety and Modernization Act (FSMA) that was signed into law on January 4, 2011, the FSA would continue to modernize federal food safety laws to protect and improve public health by:

· Providing authority to require the recall of unsafe food;

· Requiring risk assessments and preventive control plans to reduce adulteration;

· Authorizing enforcement actions to strengthen contaminant performance standards;

· Improving foreign food import inspections; and

· Requiring full food traceability to better identify sources of outbreaks.

Meat and Poultry Recall Notification Act

Senator Gillibrand is proposing the Meat and Poultry Recall Notification Act to improve consumer awareness in the event of a high priority food safety recall of meat, poultry and egg products by:

· Giving USDA mandatory recall authority.

· Encouraging retailers’ use of frequent shopper/shopper reward cards that monitor purchases to notify customers who may have purchased recalled products.

· Creating a 1-page Recall Summary Notice that could be prominently displayed at points of sale in retail outlets that sold a recalled product or on the store shelf where a product was sold.

Gillibrand’s legislation will give the Secretary of Agriculture mandatory recall authority for meat, poultry, and some egg products currently under USDA jurisdiction. Under the proposed bill, the Food Safety and Inspection Service would be granted authority to require companies to recall contaminated food and notify all related persons to cease all activities related to the recalled food. FSIS would have the authority to notify consumers and state and local health officials of an ongoing recall.

Under Gillibrand’s proposal, in the event of food borne illness or the detection of an adulterated or unsafe product, USDA can recommend a voluntary recall of a product to a manufacturer, importer, distributor, or retailer. If the request is refused, the Secretary can issue a mandatory recall and notify affected processors, packers, retail outlets, and the public. USDA will issue a Recall Summary Notice to all retail outlets that sold a recalled product. This Notice would be displayed at all cash registers or at the shelf location where the recalled product was presented for sale. Those retail outlets that use customer card systems to track customer purchases and demographics could call or email each customer that purchased a recalled food product or make available to each customer a targeted coupon with information about the recalled product. Penalties can be assessed for refusal to comply with a recall.

DURBIN, DELAURO INTRODUCE LEGISLATION ESTABLISHING A SINGLE FOOD AGENCY

Foodborne disease impacts 48 million Americans every year

[WASHINGTON, DC] – U.S. Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL) and U.S. Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) today introduced the Safe Food Act of 2015, which would create a single, independent food safety agency. Currently food safety oversight is split up among 15 different agencies, resulting in a patchwork where no single voice guides industry, retailers and consumers. Durbin and DeLauro introduced similar legislation in 1999, 2004, 2005 and 2007.

“The fragmented nature of our food safety system has left us more vulnerable to the risk of foodborne illness. It has too often forced citizens to go it alone in the case of outbreak,” said Durbin. “The Safe Food Act that Congresswoman DeLauro and I are introducing today would transfer and consolidate food safety authorities for inspections, enforcement, labeling, and research into a single food safety agency. That would allow us to prioritize system-wide food safety goals and targets. It would also help families navigate the differing federal, state, and local food safety agencies to get the answers they deserve.”

“Government has a moral responsibility to keep our families safe from foodborne illness,” said DeLauro. “One reason we have not been able to do so is that our food safety system is hopelessly fragmented and outdated. Consequently, lives are unnecessarily put at risk and the need for reform becomes more urgent. I am proud to join Senator Durbin in introducing this bill to ensure that we have a single person being held accountable for food safety, research, prevention, inspections, investigations and labeling. We need a commonsense, 21st century way of ensuring food safety and a single food safety agency is it.”

The Safe Food Act would:

· Transfer and consolidate food safety authorities for inspections, enforcement and labeling into a single food safety agency

· Provide authority to require the recall of unsafe food

· Require risk assessments and preventive control plans to reduce adulteration

· Authorize enforcement actions to strengthen contaminant performance standards

· Improve foreign food import inspections

· Require full food traceability to better identify sources of outbreaks

Senate cosponsors of the Safe Food Act include U.S. Senators Dianna Feinstein (D-CA), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY). Cosponsors in the House of Representatives include Representatives Barbara Lee (D-CA), Louise Slaughter (D-NY), James Langevin (D-RI), Bobby Rush (D-IL), Charles Rangel (D-NY), Jim McDermott (D-WA) and Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC).

DeLauro and Durbin recently wrote an op-ed about the imperative for such legislation. DeLauro is a former chairwoman, and currently a senior member, of the subcommittee responsible for funding the United States Department of Agriculture, and the Food and Drug Administration. Durbin is the Senate’s Assistant Democratic Leader and a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee.

DURBIN, DELAURO TO HOLD PRESS CALL ANNOUNCING BILL TO CREATE SINGLE FOOD SAFETY AGENCY

Foodborne disease impacts 48 million Americans every year

[WASHINGTON, DC] — U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) and U.S. Representative Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) will hold a press conference call tomorrow at 1:00 PM CT / 2:00 PM ET announcing their bill to create a single food safety agency. Durbin and DeLauro previewed their bill in an op-ed last week. The Safe Food Act of 2015 would create a single, independent federal food safety agency.

Currently food safety oversight is split up among 15 different agencies, resulting in a patchwork where no single voice guides industry, retailers and consumers.

Durbin is the Senate’s Assistant Democratic Leader and a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee. DeLauro is a former chairwoman, and currently a senior member, of the subcommittee responsible for funding the United States Department of Agriculture, and the Food and Drug Administration.

The Government Accountability Office first named our fragmented food safety system to its biennial High Risk List in 2007, and it has made repeated appearances on the list since then.

Who: Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL)

Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro (D-CT)

What: Press conference call to Announce Bill Creating Single Food Safety Agency

When: Tomorrow, Wednesday, January 28, 2015

1:00 PM CT / 2:00 PM ET

Call-in: (202) 228-0808 or (855) 428-0808

Passcode: Please email christina_mulka@durbin.senate.gov

Another Sprout Outbreak – We need a Warning Label, says Marler

William Marler, an attorney specializing in food safety, warns about the danger of sprouts and that they are not as “healthy” as they seem – Massachusetts, New York and Pennsylvania hardest hit.

Another sprout-related Salmonella outbreak earlier this month has prompted the attorneys of the Seattle law firm, Marler Clark, to call on the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to require warnings on packaging of all raw sprouts. Marler Clark specializes in cases involving foodborne illness.

As of December 15, 2014, a total of 111 people infected with the outbreak strains of Salmonella Enteritidis have been reported from 12 states linked to Wonton sprouts. Illnesses have surfaced in Connecticut (8), Maine (4), Maryland (5), Massachusetts (35), Montana (1), New Hampshire (6), New York (21), Ohio (3), Pennsylvania (17), Rhode Island (7), Vermont (3) and Virginia (1).  Twenty-six percent of ill persons have been hospitalized. No deaths have been reported. Collaborative investigation efforts of state, local, and federal public health and regulatory agencies indicate that bean sprouts produced by Wonton Foods, Inc. of New York are the likely source of this outbreak.

“According to the FDA’s own 1999 advisory, Recommendations on Sprouted Seeds, sprouts have been increasingly implicated in foodborne outbreaks. The time has come to label sprouts as potentially hazardous,” says William Marler, the firm’s managing partner. He suggests this labeling mirror the requirements now found on unpasteurized juices:

WARNING: This product may contain harmful bacteria that can cause serious illness in children, the elderly, and persons with weakened immune systems.

As far back as September 1998, the FDA and CDC issued a warning against sprouts urging, children, pregnant women, and the elderly that they should not eat alfalfa sprouts until growers find a way to reduce the risk of E. coli. They also warned that any people with weakened immune systems should avoid eating sprouts as well.

Although sprouts are often considered a “health food,” the warm, humid conditions needed for growing sprouts from seeds are also ideal for bacteria to flourish. Salmonella, E. coli, and other bacteria can grow to high levels without affecting the appearance of the sprouts.

Researchers have treated both seeds and sprouts with heat or washed them in solutions of chlorine, alcohol, and other chemicals. Some of these disinfectants reduced the levels of bacteria, but a potential hazard remained, especially for persons with weak immune systems. High temperatures that would kill the bacteria on the seeds would also keep them from sprouting.

“Until an effective way is found to prevent illness from sprouts, they should be eaten with caution, if at all,” says Marler. “Most people don’t understand the risks. The reality is most assume that something so “natural” is healthy, but the opposite is true—people who eat sprouts are gambling with their health each and every time they add them to a salad or sandwich. A warning label would go a long way towards explaining the real risks of sprouts.”

My friends at Barf Blog document at least 55 sprout-associated outbreaks occurring worldwide affecting a total of 15,233 people since 1988. A comprehensive table of sprout-related outbreaks can be found HERE.

Bill Marler is an accomplished food safety advocate and attorney. He began litigating foodborne illness cases in 1993, when he successfully represented Brianne Kiner, the most seriously injured survivor of the Jack in the Box E. coli O157:H7 outbreak. Over the years, Bill and his firm, Marler Clark, have become the leaders in representing victims of foodborne illness. Marler Clark, The Food Safety Law Firm, is the nation’s leading law firm representing victims of hepatitis A outbreaks.

Bill spends much of his time traveling to address food industry groups, fair associations, and public health groups about foodborne illness, related litigation, and surrounding issues. He has testified before Congress as well as State Legislatures. He is a frequent author of articles related to foodborne illness in food safety journals and magazines as well as on his personal blog, www.marlerblog.com. Bill also recently founded Food Safety News (www.foodsafetynews.com) as a one-stop resource for global food safety news and information.

Cockroaches and Lizard Feces Prompts Hawaiian Sprouter Closure

The FDA announced last Friday that RZM Food Factory in Makawao, Hawaii agreed to stop processing and distributing food products until the company is in compliance with federal law. A federal judge signed a consent decree or permanent injunction and entered it in the U.S. District Court of Hawaii last Thursday.

The day before, the FDA filed a complaint for permanent injunction against RZM Food Factory, which manufactures, prepares, packs, holds and distributes ready-to-eat mung bean sprouts, alfalfa sprouts, clover sprouts and radish sprouts.

During the FDA’s most recent inspection of RZM Food Factory’s facilities in April, it found several different types of pests, including cockroaches. FDA investigators also saw lizard feces in the growing room and a slug on a growing bed of sprouts. It also found litter and waste in and outside the facility.

The FDA also alleges that the facilities and equipment were not maintained. During the inspection, rain leaked onto the growing beds. “The rainwater can be contaminated from birds and other animals and thus serve as a route for contaminating sprouts with pathogens,” the FDA said. It also said the irrigation tanks were rusty, corroded and uncovered.

In several inspections since 2001, the FDA found similar unsanitary conditions.

As another Salmonella “Sproutbreak” Grows, Marler Calls for Sprout Warning Label

William Marler, an attorney specializing in food safety, warns about the danger of sprouts and that they are not as “healthy” as they seem – Massachusetts, New York and Pennsylvania hardest hit.

Another sprout-related Salmonella outbreak earlier this month has prompted the attorneys of the Seattle law firm, Marler Clark, to call on the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to require warnings on packaging of all raw sprouts. Marler Clark specializes in cases involving foodborne illness.

As of December 4, a total of 87 persons infected with the outbreak strains of Salmonella Enteritidis have been reported from 11 states. The number of ill people identified in each state is as follows: Connecticut (7), Maine (3), Massachusetts (35), Montana (1), New Hampshire (4), New York (14), Ohio (3), Pennsylvania (10), Rhode Island (7), Vermont (3) and Virginia (1). The one ill person from Montana traveled to the Eastern United States during the period when likely exposure occurred.

Collaborative investigation efforts of state, local, and federal public health and regulatory agencies indicate that bean sprouts produced by Wonton Foods, Inc. of New York are the likely source of this outbreak.

“According to the FDA’s own 1999 advisory, Recommendations on Sprouted Seeds, sprouts have been increasingly implicated in foodborne outbreaks. The time has come to label sprouts as potentially hazardous,” says William Marler, the firm’s managing partner. He suggests this labeling mirror the requirements now found on unpasteurized juices:

WARNING: This product may contain harmful bacteria that can cause serious illness in children, the elderly, and persons with weakened immune systems.

Perhaps we even need to be a bit clearer:

As far back as September 1998, the FDA and CDC issued a warning against sprouts urging, children, pregnant women, and the elderly that they should not eat alfalfa sprouts until growers find a way to reduce the risk of E. coli. They also warned that any people with weakened immune systems should avoid eating sprouts as well.

Although sprouts are often considered a “health food,” the warm, humid conditions needed for growing sprouts from seeds are also ideal for bacteria to flourish. Salmonella, E. coli, and other bacteria can grow to high levels without affecting the appearance of the sprouts.

Researchers have treated both seeds and sprouts with heat or washed them in solutions of chlorine, alcohol, and other chemicals. Some of these disinfectants reduced the levels of bacteria, but a potential hazard remained, especially for persons with weak immune systems. High temperatures that would kill the bacteria on the seeds would also keep them from sprouting.

“Until an effective way is found to prevent illness from sprouts, they should be eaten with caution, if at all,” says Marler. “Most people don’t understand the risks. The reality is most assume that something so “natural” is healthy, but the opposite is true—people who eat sprouts are gambling with their health each and every time they add them to a salad or sandwich. A warning label would go a long way towards explaining the real risks of sprouts.”

My friends at Barf Blog document at least 55 sprout-associated outbreaks occurring worldwide affecting a total of 15,233 people since 1988. A comprehensive table of sprout-related outbreaks can be found HERE.

Bill Marler is an accomplished food safety advocate and attorney. He began litigating foodborne illness cases in 1993, when he successfully represented Brianne Kiner, the most seriously injured survivor of the Jack in the Box E. coli O157:H7 outbreak. Over the years, Bill and his firm, Marler Clark, have become the leaders in representing victims of foodborne illness. Marler Clark, The Food Safety Law Firm, is the nation’s leading law firm representing victims of hepatitis A outbreaks.

Bill spends much of his time traveling to address food industry groups, fair associations, and public health groups about foodborne illness, related litigation, and surrounding issues. He has testified before Congress as well as State Legislatures. He is a frequent author of articles related to foodborne illness in food safety journals and magazines as well as on his personal blog, www.marlerblog.com. Bill also recently founded Food Safety News (www.foodsafetynews.com) as a one-stop resource for global food safety news and information.

It is Time to Vaccinate Food Service Workers for Hepatitis A

Hepatitis A is more than a “tummy bug” – it can be life altering – See Link.

Hardly a month passes without a warning from a health department somewhere that an infected food handler is the source of yet another potential hepatitis A outbreak.  Yet another one was announced last night from New Jersey.

Absent vaccinations of food handlers, combined with an effective and rigorous hand-washing policy, there will continue to be more hepatitis A outbreaks. It is time for health departments across the country to require vaccinations of food-service workers, especially those who serve the very young and the elderly.

Hepatitis A is a communicable disease that spreads from person-to-person. It is spread almost exclusively through fecal-oral contact, generally from person-to-person, or via contaminated food or water. Hepatitis A is the only foodborne illness that is vaccine-preventable. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), since the inception of the vaccine, rates of infection have declined 92 percent.

CDC estimate that 83,000 cases of hepatitis A occur in the United States every year, and that many of these cases are related to food-borne transmission. In 1999, more than 10,000 people were hospitalized due to hepatitis A infections, and 83 people died. In 2003, 650 people became sickened, four died, and nearly 10,000 people got IG (immunoglobulin) shots after eating at a Pennsylvania restaurant. Not only do customers get sick, but also businesses lose customers or some simply go out of business.

Although CDC has not yet called for mandatory vaccination of food-service workers, it has repeatedly pointed out that the consumption of worker-contaminated food is a major cause of foodborne illness in the U.S.

Hepatitis A continues to be one of the most frequently reported, vaccine-preventable diseases in the U.S., despite FDA approval of hepatitis A vaccine in 1995. Widespread vaccination of appropriate susceptible populations would substantially lower disease incidence and potentially eliminate indigenous transmission of hepatitis A infections. Vaccinations cost about $50. The major economic reason that these preventive shots have not been used is because of the high turnover rate of food-service employees. Eating out becomes a whole lot less of a gamble if all food-service workers faced the same requirement.

According to CDC, the costs associated with hepatitis A are substantial. Between 11 percent and 22 percent of persons who have hepatitis A are hospitalized. Adults who become ill lose an average of 27 days of work. Health departments incur substantial costs in providing post-exposure prophylaxis to an average of 11 contacts per case. Average costs (direct and indirect) of hepatitis A range from $1,817 to $2,459 per case for adults and from $433 to $1,492 per case for children younger than 18. In 1989, the estimated annual direct and indirect costs of hepatitis A in the U.S. were more than $200 million, equivalent to more than $300 million in 1997 dollars.  A new CDC report shows that, in 2010, slightly more than 10 percent of people between the ages of 19 and 49 got a hepatitis A shot.

Vaccinating an employee make sense.  It is moral to protect customers from an illness that can cause serious illness and death. Vaccines also protect the business from the multi-million-dollar fallout that can come if people become ill or if thousands are forced to stand in line to be vaccinated to prevent a more serious problem.

Fowl Thoughts on Thanksgiving

The Food Standards Agency’s (FSA) released its “Name and Shame” Report this morning.  The idea of testing retail chicken and publishing the results had been the focus of much discussion over the last few months.  Some UK retailers were not very happy that the public would actually know how tainted the chicken really is.

If this had been the US equivalent, FSIS, we would be wondering why would the report be released on Thanksgiving Day.  My guess is that in the UK Thanksgiving does not have the same meaning as it does over here.

Retailers had tried to block the study’s release.

Well, back to the study; Campylobacter was found in 70 per cent of chicken tested up from 59 per cent of chickens in August.  Almost a fifth of all chickens (18 per cent) tested positive for Campylobacter above the highest level of contamination, while six per cent of packaging tested positive – a rise of four per cent since August.

The FSA also revealed that Asda sold the highest percentage of chickens contaminated with the bug.  Campylobacter was present in 78 per cent of chickens from the supermarket, with 28 per cent above the highest level of contamination.

Packaging testing showed 12 per cent was contaminated.  Don’t forget the recent “chicken juice” report.

Almost three-quarters of chickens (73 per cent) sold by the Co-operative tested positive, followed by Morrisons, Sainsbury’s and Waitrose (69 per cent), Marks & Spencer (67 per cent) and Tesco (64 per cent).

Perhaps it is time to redo our 2011 testing of contamination levels in chicken purchased in Seattle.  Here were some of the results:

The study showed that up to 80% of Seattle area raw chicken could be contaminated with some form of potentially harmful bacteria.

Testing done by IEH Laboratories in Lake Forest Park, Washington showed that 80 of 100 raw chickens purchased at various Seattle area grocery stores contained at least one potentially harmful pathogen.

The test was comprised of 18 brands of chicken purchased at 18 different Seattle area stores including chain grocery stores, Safeway (3 locations), Albertsons (2), QFC (4), Fred Meyer (2), Thriftway (1); warehouse clubs Costco (2) and Sam’s Club (1); natural foods stores Whole Foods (1) and PCC (1), and one small market, Ken’s Market (1).

In the study local and organic chicken did not prove to be safer than other samples. In terms of origination, 59 chicken samples originated from Washington, while 13 samples came from other states and 28 were of unknown origin. Regardless of place, chicken from every state tested was confirmed to contain potentially harmful bacteria.  Of the 14 samples of organic chicken 12 contained harmful bacteria.

The study tested for five pathogens.  While some findings were typical, other results were more surprising.  Previous studies have found on average that 33 to 53% of chicken is contaminated with Campylobacter.  In Seattle 65% of the chicken tested positive for Campylobacter.  Salmonella was isolated in 19% of the chicken purchased at retail stores in the Seattle area, slightly higher than the expected average of 16%.  Staphylococcus aureus was found in 42% of the chicken sampled; 10 of these samples were Methicillan-resistant, commonly known as MRSA.  One sample cultured positive for Listeria monocytogenes and one sample cultured positive for E. coli O26, a bacteria often found in beef.

Salmonella Tests Prompt Cartilage Complex Recall

A single lot of Saba Shark Cartilage Complex is the subject of this public announcement and recall as a result of a sample from one bottle that tested positive for Salmonella. This product is packaged in black screw-top bottles with the brand name “saba” in red letters, the product name “shark cartilage complex” in white letters, and a net quantity statement of “500 mg 60 capsules” in small white letters. Product from the affected lot can be identified by the Lot Number 416349 and an expiration date of 08/16, both of which are printed in black letters inside a white rectangle that is adjacent to the products “Suggested Use” instructions.

AMS Health Sciences is recalling 2014 bottles of Saba Shark Cartilage Complex due to possible contamination of Salmonella.

Product from this lot was sold to consumers through the internet site www.sabaforlife.com during the period of February through August 2014. AMS is initiating this recall out of caution for consumer health, even though numerous samples from the same Lot No. have tested negative for Salmonella.

William Marler: Time for a Warning Label on Sprouts

Another sprout-related E. coli outbreak earlier this month has prompted the attorneys of the Seattle law firm, Marler Clark, to call on the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to require warnings on packaging of all raw sprouts.

“According the FDA’s own 1999 advisory, Recommendations on Sprouted Seeds, sprouts have been increasingly implicated in foodborne outbreaks. The time has come to label sprouts as potentially hazardous,” said William Marler, the firm’s managing partner.

He suggests this labeling mirror the requirements now found on unpasteurized juices:

WARNING: This product may contain harmful bacteria that can cause serious illness in children, the elderly, and persons with weakened immune systems.

Epidemiology and traceback investigations conducted by local, state, and federal officials indicated that contaminated raw clover sprouts produced by Evergreen Fresh Sprouts, LLC of Idaho are the likely source of this outbreak.  In interviews, 12 (86%) of 14 ill persons reported eating raw clover sprouts in the week before becoming ill.

As of June 9, 2014, a total of 17 persons infected with the outbreak strain of Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli O121 (STEC O121) have been reported from five states.  The number of ill persons identified in each state is as follows:  Idaho (3), Michigan (1), Montana (2), Utah (1), and Washington (10).  47% of ill persons have been hospitalized. No ill persons have developed hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), and no deaths have been reported.

The FDA conducted an inspection of Evergreen Fresh Sprouts’ facility on May 22-23, 2014; May 27-30, 2014; and June 6, 2014. During the inspection, FDA investigators observed a number of unsanitary conditions, including condensate and irrigation water dripping from rusty valves; a rusty and corroded mung bean room watering system; tennis rackets that had scratches, chips, and frayed plastic” used to scoop mung bean sprouts; a pitchfork with corroded metal being used to transfer mung bean sprouts; and a squeegee with visible corroded metal and non-treated wood being used to agitate mung bean sprouts inside a soak vat.

Raw clover sprouts have not been recalled from Evergreen Fresh Sprouts. Because contaminated sprouts may still be available on the market, CDC recommends that consumers do not eat any raw clover sprouts produced by Evergreen Fresh Sprouts.  The Washington State Department of Health and the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare are also advising people not to eat raw clover sprouts produced by Evergreen Fresh Sprouts.

Barfblog does a great job of tracking sprout outbreak through 2012.  Outbreak Database carries on – through 2014.

As far back as September 1998, the FDA issued a warning against sprouts urging:

children, pregnant women and the elderly should not eat alfalfa sprouts until growers find a way to reduce the risk of a potentially deadly bacteria that infects some sprouts, the Food and Drug Administration said this week. The FDA, which is investigating sprout industry practices, said children, the elderly and people with weakened immune systems should avoid eating sprouts. The agency’s statement, issued Monday, repeated similar but little-noticed advice the U.S. Centers for Disease Control gave to doctors and researchers a year ago.

Here is the CDC warning :

Sprouts Not Healthy Food for Everyone

Children, the elderly, and persons whose immune systems are not functioning well should not eat raw sprouts, because current treatments of seeds and sprouts cannot get rid of all bacteria present.

Persons who are at high risk for complications from foodborne illness should probably not eat raw sprouts, according to an article in the current issue of Emerging Infectious Diseases, CDC’s peer-reviewed journal, which tracks new and reemerging infectious diseases worldwide.

Although sprouts are often considered a “health food,” the warm, humid conditions needed for growing sprouts from seeds are also ideal for bacteria to flourish. Salmonella, E. coli, and other bacteria can grow to high levels without affecting the appearance of the sprouts.

Researchers have treated both seeds and sprouts with heat or washed them in solutions of chlorine, alcohol, and other chemicals. Some of these disinfectants reduced the levels of bacteria, but a potential hazard remained, especially for persons with weak immune systems. High temperatures that would kill the bacteria on the seeds would also keep them from sprouting. Until an effective way is found to prevent illness from sprouts, they should be eaten with caution, if at all.