Following WalMart two years ago and numerous food service firms several years ago, The Kroger Co. – a supermarket chain that operates a huge number of stores, including the Dillons in Manhattan, Kansas — today announced its decision to no longer sell sprouts due to its potential food safety risk.
“After a thorough, science-based review, we have decided to voluntarily discontinue selling fresh sprouts,” said Payton Pruett, Kroger’s vice president of food safety. “Testing and sanitizing by the growers and safe food handling by the consumer are the critical steps to protect against foodborne illness. Sprouts present a unique challenge because pathogens may reside inside of the seeds where they cannot be reached by the currently available processing interventions. Out of an abundance of caution, the Kroger Family of Stores will no longer sell fresh sprouts or procure other foods that are produced on the same equipment as sprouts.”
Pruett added that the company is open to revisiting this policy when new technologies and practices show that farmers can consistently produce sprout seeds that do not internalize pathogens, and when sprout processing environments can be enhanced for safety and cleanliness.
Deliveries of sprouts into Kroger distribution centers and stores will be discontinued on October 22, 2012.
Kroger employs more than 339,000 associates who serve customers in 2,425 supermarkets and multi-department stores in 31 states under two dozen local banner names including Kroger, City Market, Dillons, Jay C, Food 4 Less, Fred Meyer, Fry’s, King Soopers, QFC, Ralphs and Smith’s.
After the German E. coli O104 outbreak that killed 53 people last year and sickened over 4,000, along with the ridiculous public statements and blatant disregard for public safety taken by sandwich artist Jimmy John’s in the U.S., we reviewed the sprout-related literature and concluded:
• raw sprouts are a well-documented source of foodborne illness;
• risk communication about raw sprouts has been inconsistent; and,
• continued outbreaks question effectiveness of risk management strategies and producer compliance.
We 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 at http://bites.ksu.edu/sprouts-associated-outbreaks.
Erdozain, M.S., Allen, K.J., Morley, K.A. and Powell, D.A. 2012. Failures in sprouts-related risk communication. Food Control. 10.1016/j.foodcont.2012.08.022
Nutritional and perceived health benefits have contributed to the increasing popularity of raw sprouted seed products. In the past two decades, sprouted seeds have been a recurring food safety concern, with at least 55 documented foodborne outbreaks affecting more than 15,000 people. A compilation of selected publications was used to yield an analysis of the evolving safety and risk communication related to raw sprouts, including microbiological safety, efforts to improve production practices, and effectiveness of communication prior to, during, and after sprout-related outbreaks. Scientific investigation and media coverage of sprout-related outbreaks has led to improved production guidelines and public health enforcement actions, yet continued outbreaks call into question the effectiveness of risk management strategies and producer compliance. Raw sprouts remain a high-risk product and avoidance or thorough cooking are the only ways that consumers can reduce risk; even thorough cooking messages fail to acknowledge the risk of cross-contamination. Risk communication messages have been inconsistent over time with Canadian and U.S. governments finally aligning their messages in the past five years, telling consumers to avoid sprouts. Yet consumer and industry awareness of risk remains low. To minimize health risks linked to the consumption of sprout products, local and national public health agencies, restaurants, retailers and producers need validated, consistent and repeated risk messaging through a variety of sources.