Sprouts ‘safest produce on the grocery shelf’ sick people disagree

Most sprouts are grown in a controlled, indoor environment and, when handled properly, “are the safest produce on the grocery shelf.”

So says Bob Rust, who runs International Specialty Supply, a Cookeville, Tenn.-based supplier of sprout seeds and growing equipment.

Rust told The Packer his company tests every bag of seed before selling it to commercial growers and that most U.S. growers “are well-trained in the production of safe sprouts, utilize some of the most stringent safety procedures in the food industry, and have sophisticated systems in place to minimize the likelihood of contamination.”

Except for those two outbreaks in the U.S. earlier this year; or Canada in 2005; or Germany right now. A complete table of international sprout outbreaks is available at http://bites.ksu.edu/sprouts-associated-outbreaks.

The Packer responded in an editorial that U.S. sprout growers can do much more than they’re doing to avoid a situation like in Germany, where E. coli-contaminated organic sprouts killed nearly 40 and caused more than 3,000 illnesses.

U.S. sprout grower-shippers contacted in mid-June told us they’re confident their food safety practices have improved significantly in recent years and that thorough testing reduces the chances of contaminated product reaching the food supply.

However, many critics have pointed out dangerous pathogens are more difficult to eliminate in sprouts through current cleaning processes.

The industry has made no clear move to embrace cleaning alternatives, such as irradiation, or form a group similar to the California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement, which began in the aftermath of the 2006 spinach E. coli outbreak. It is up to each sprout grower to follow food safety guidelines. That’s risky.

The sprout industry needs to do everything it can to ship safe product and prove it to consumers and fellow produce companies.

At this point, they’re not doing that.