Mike Hornick, of the Packer, a great online Ag magazine, talked with Bill Bagby recently about the Salmonella outbreak linked to alfalfa and spicy sprouts (a blend that includes alfalfa) from Bagby’s Illinois company called "Tiny Greens."  Bagby, who has been vocal to say the least about his doubts whether his sprouts really are the source of the multistate outbreak, pontificated today on both the microbiological and epidemiological aspects of the CDC and FDA investigation to date:

The Food and Drug Administration reported Jan. 14 that a water runoff sample tested positive for the salmonella type involved in the outbreak. But the sample, Bagby said, had no connection with his growing operation, which is indoors.

“They call it water runoff, but it was runoff from the compost pile outside the building,” he said. “It’s misleading to say it’s environmental. There were 260 samples taken inside the building — spent irrigation water, potable water, sprouts, seeds, floor and wall swabs, packing — and they were all negative for salmonella.”

“The FDA Web page even mentions that since this is such a common form of salmonella, most of these (125) cases are probably not related to the Illinois outbreak.”

“My epidemiologist said it’s not probable that any of my product is contaminated,” Bagby said. “Possible, yes; but probable, no. I told the FDA and CDCP that if they have a remote feeling it’s possible our products are contaminated, I don’t want to make anybody sick. I told them I am willing to shut down and do a thorough cleaning of this building.”  

I’m not sure Bagby’s being as objective and realistic as he wishes the FDA and CDC would be.  The FDA hasn’t stated that most of the PFGE-matched Salmonella I 4,5,12,:i- cases "are probably not related to the illinois outbreak," whatever that means.  The CDC has said that some of the illnesses might not be related to the Tiny Greens outbreak, but those are likely to be illnesses in outlying states amongst residents who haven’t traveled recently to Illinois, Indiana, or Missouri and consumed Tiny Greens sprouts.  That portion of the cluster of 125 illnesses nationally–i.e. the ones in Illinois, Indiana, and Missouri–is most definitely an outbreak, and one very reasonable view, given the level of competence typically exhibited by Illinois state health officials and the CDC, would be that, at the very least, the Illinois, Indiana, and Missouri illnesses with exposure to Tiny Greens sprouts were sickened by, yes, the sprouts. 

It’s all background noise at this point though.  Juries will have to decide in our salmonella lawsuit on behalf of Illinois and Indiana residents (against Jimmy Johns and Tiny Greens) what made all these folks sick.  My guess is that PFGE-matched Salmonella sample is going to be pretty persuasive, whether it came from effluent, seeds, or the backyard compost pile.