In a rare, but refreshing move, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued a warning to consumers to avoid eating Evergreen Produce brand alfalfa sprouts or spicy sprouts because they may be linked to 20 cases of Salmonella poisoning.

Why is the FDA making this announcement?  Because the manufacturer refuses to recall the sprouts.  Mary Clare Jalonick, AP writer, interviewed Nadine Scharf, who identified herself as the co-owner of the company.  According to Ms. Scharf, “the FDA has asked her to recall the sprouts but [] she doesn’t believe the agency has enough evidence to link the illnesses to her products. Most of the sprouts have probably been consumed anyway, she said.”

Let’s be clear here–the FDA is not an agency that points the finger at a manufacturer of a product linked to the Salmonella illnesses of at least 20 people without incredibly strong supporting evidence. 

The agency’s warning to consumers Monday is an unusual step that the agency will generally only take if a company refuses to recall a product and officials believe there is possible danger to those who consume it. Salmonella is an organism that can cause serious and sometimes fatal infections in people with weakened immune systems. It can cause diarrhea, fever and vomiting.

In the warning, the FDA urged consumers not to eat alfalfa or spicy sprouts in plastic bags labeled “Evergreen Produce” or “Evergreen Produce Inc.” The agency said it believes they were distributed in Idaho, Montana and Washington state. Scharf said that their products are distributed to Spokane, Wash., where they are then sent to other places.

This certainly isn’t the first time that sprouts have been implicated in a foodborne illness outbreak.  In fact, there have been literally dozens of such outbreaks.

Raw sprouts are a frequent culprit in foodborne illness because of the moist, warm conditions in which they are grown. At least 47 people have died and 4,000 have been sickened in an outbreak of E. coli in Europe that is believed to be caused by sprouts. FDA officials said the two outbreaks are not related.

There have been at least 30 outbreaks associated with raw or lightly cooked sprouts in the United States in the last 15 years.

Scharf said she thinks the publicity over the European outbreak is causing the agency to be more vigilant.

Ms. Jalonick concludes her article with a very profound, and very wrong, statement from the company’s owner, who said “Recalling the sprouts that are out there would be like saying I am guilty of having bacterially contaminated sprouts, and as of today they haven’t documented the fact that any of our sprouts have bacteria in them.”  I respectfully disagree.  Recalling the sprouts would be acknowledging the overwhelming epidemiological link between your product and the 20 people suffering from a very serious pathogen, and taking responsibility for it.  It would also be sending a message to your consumers that you give a damn about the health of the very people you are making money off of.