19 sick; E. coli O121 infections linked to raw clover sprouts (final update)

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that this outbreak appears to be over.

clover.sprouts• A total of 19 persons infected with the outbreak strain of Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli O121 (STEC O121) were reported from six states.

• The number of ill persons identified in each state was as follows: California (1), Idaho (3), Michigan (1), Montana (2), Utah (1), and Washington (11).

• 44% of ill persons were hospitalized. No ill persons developed hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), and no deaths were reported. 

• 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 was the likely source of this outbreak.

• Evergreen Fresh Sprouts is no longer using the seed lot linked to illnesses in this outbreak.

• Sprouts produced by this firm from this seed lot are likely no longer available for consumption given the approximately 14-day shelf life of raw clover sprouts.

17 sick from magical sprouts; FDA finds questionable conditions

KREM.com reports that U.S. Food and Drug Administration officials found objectionable conditions at a North Idaho sprouts farm following negative test results for E. coli.

Evergreen Fresh Sprouts of Moyie Springs had been implicated as the potential source of an E. coli outbreak that had sickened 17 people in five states.
E. coli test results on the type of sprouts the victims ate had been negative on Monday but the FDA noticed some questionable things at the farm.

sprouts.sandwichInvestigators noticed other types of sprouts being treated with water from rusty valves. They also noticed employees using scratched and chipped tennis rackets to scoop some sprouts. Investigators said they saw an employee using a corroded pitchfork to transfer sprouts into plastic bins. 

The owner of Evergreen Fresh Sprouts said the negative results showed that his product was safe.

Testing is to verify safety systems work; it proves almost nothing.

Staff at the Spokane Regional Health District said they were not surprised that the results on the sprouts came back negative. They said FDA investigators were at Evergreen Fresh Sprouts weeks after the breakout happened. They added that all of the people who became sick with E. coli had reported eating the clover sprouts that were traced back to Evergreen. 

“We don’t usually have such a good association between a particular product and not only a particular product, but a product that was produced in one plant,” said Kim Papich.

Staff at the Spokane Regional Health District added that the particular strain of E. coli was very rare and was found in all of the patients during the recent outbreak.

“This is very specific testing that said these are the same organisms that are making these people sick,” said Papich.

Evergreen Fresh Sprouts did not return KREM 2 News’ calls regarding the FDA’s accusations.

It’s called epidemiology: year after FDA blamed Salmonella-in-sprouts outbreak on Evergreen Produce, founders still baffled

On July 1, 2011, Evergreen Fresh Sprouts announced a voluntary recall of Alfalfa Sprouts and Spicy Sprouts because they had the potential to be contaminated with salmonella.

Owner Nadine Scharf said three days earlier, “The FDA encouraged us to do a recall but I said I needed to see hard evidence that our sprouts were involved … We’ve never had any problem before. We do the same thing that we’ve done for 24 years.”

Yet as of June 27, 2011, 21 individuals, including three hospitalizations, infected with outbreak strain of Salmonella Enteritidis had been linked to the sprouts.

So Evergreen relented and issued a voluntary recall.

Last week, owner Nadine Scharf told the Spokesman Review she’s regretted that decision ever since.

“It went on the Internet that we had bacteria in our plant,” Scharf said. “They said: ‘Don’t eat their sprouts. If you have them in your fridge, get rid of them. Don’t even give them to your animals.’ ”

More than a month later, the test results showed no bacteria was found at Evergreen Produce, in Moyie Springs.

The FDA, however, didn’t relent on its conclusion that the business was the origin of the outbreak.

It’s a case that underscores a difficult regulatory balance: Move quickly on the best information available to extinguish a dangerous public health threat, or conduct a more meticulous investigation to protect a business from potential harm?

A year later, Scharf and her family are still trying piece back together the business they grew from the ground up.

The sprout-growing business started in the Scharf family almost 25 years ago as something for Fred and Nadine Scharf to do with their two home-schooled sons.

They kept vats in their house and sold the sprouts in small amounts to neighbors and local grocery stores.

One of the business’s biggest clients was Fairchild Air Force Base, which routinely sent military inspectors to the warehouse before the food could come on base.

That’s why the Scharfs were so surprised when, a month after their last military inspection, the FDA came knocking.

The FDA did not respond to numerous requests for an interview for this story.

Previously, however, an FDA representative said negative test results did not necessarily rule out Evergreen sprouts as the cause of the outbreak. Pathogens may have been contaminating only one portion of the food, the representative said.

What’s more, once the FDA ordered the voluntary recall, no more salmonella cases were reported.

Months later, Scharf began healing the reputation of her business. She convinced her clients the business was clean. She personally contacted each buyer. She hid nothing, sending them the test results.

Last winter – after almost four months of no business – orders starting coming in again.

Scharf’s sons, who have families and careers of their own now, came back to help restart the business. David and his wife, Jolene, now run Evergreen Produce full time. Nadine and Fred retired two months ago.

Their grandkids are on the list of 12 people now employed. Business is about 75 percent of what it was before the recall.

The family said they have contacted the FDA to ask if they will ever be officially vindicated.

“I said, ‘You have ruined our business. … Are you going to help us get back online now?’ ” Nadine Scharf said. “They said: ‘We have never done that and we never will.’ ”

A table of sprout-related outbreaks can be found at http://bites.ksu.edu/sprouts-associated-outbreaks.