Raw sprouts and sausage: There’s some hot STECs out there

In 2011, one of the world’s largest outbreaks of hemolytic-uremic syndrome (HUS) occurred, caused by a rare Escherichia coli serotype, O104:H4, that shared the virulence profiles of Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC)/enterohemorrhagic E. coli (EHEC) and enteroaggregative E. coli (EAEC).

sprout-santa_-barf_-xmas__0-featuredThe persistence and fitness factors of the highly virulent EHEC/EAEC O104:H4 strain, grown either in food or in vitro, were compared with those of E. coli O157 outbreak-associated strains.

The log reduction rates of the different EHEC strains during the maturation of fermented sausages were not significantly different. Both the O157:NM and O104:H4 serotypes could be shown by qualitative enrichment to be present after 60 days of sausage storage. Moreover, the EHEC/EAEC O104:H4 strain appeared to be more viable than E. coli O157:H7 under conditions of decreased pH and in the presence of sodium nitrite. Analysis of specific EHEC strains in experiments with an EHEC inoculation cocktail showed a dominance of EHEC/EAEC O104:H4, which could be isolated from fermented sausages for 60 days. Inhibitory activities of EHEC/EAEC O104:H4 toward several E. coli strains, including serotype O157 strains, could be determined. Our study suggests that EHEC/EAEC O104:H4 is well adapted to the multiple adverse conditions occurring in fermented raw sausages. Therefore, it is strongly recommended that STEC strain cocktails composed of several serotypes, instead of E. coli O157:H7 alone, be used in food risk assessments.

The enhanced persistence of EHEC/EAEC O104:H4 as a result of its robustness, as well as the production of bacteriocins, may account for its extraordinary virulence potential.

sproutssprouts-batzIMPORTANCE In 2011, a severe outbreak caused by an EHEC/EAEC serovar O104:H4 strain led to many HUS sequelae. In this study, the persistence of the O104:H4 strain was compared with those of other outbreak-relevant STEC strains under conditions of fermented raw sausage production. Both O157:NM and O104:H4 strains could survive longer during the production of fermented sausages than E. coli O157:H7 strains. E. coli O104:H4 was also shown to be well adapted to the multiple adverse conditions encountered in fermented sausages, and the secretion of a bacteriocin may explain the competitive advantage of this strain in an EHEC strain cocktail.

Consequently, this study strongly suggests that enhanced survival and persistence, and the presumptive production of a bacteriocin, may explain the increased virulence of the O104:H4 outbreak strain. Furthermore, this strain appears to be capable of surviving in a meat product, suggesting that meat should not be excluded as a source of potential E. coli O104:H4 infection.

Fitness of Enterohemorrhagic Escherichia coli (EHEC)/Enteroaggregative E. coli O104:H4 in comparison to that of EHEC O157: Survival studies in food and in vitro

Applied and Environmental Microbiology; November 2016 vol. 82 no. 21 6326-6334

Christina Böhnlein, Jan Kabisch, Diana Meske, Charles M. A. P. Franz and Rohtraud Pichner


McKenzie brothers can explain: ‘We recently found a whole mouse in an energy drink’

This week, Cynthia Mangione, a food laboratory specialist at the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets, and Stephanie Brock, a radiation health supervisor at the Kentucky Department for Public Health, took to Reddit to answer questions about their jobs. They spend their days “testing products imported into the US for dangerous pathogens, as well as illegal dyes, metals, antibiotics and more.” Here are the three most surprising reveals:

mouse.beer2) The one food safety testers avoid eating: sprouts

I have given up sprouts because of ongoing concerns with their safety. We also make sure to wash ready-to-eat veggies (despite the “triple wash” designation).

According to the Food and Drug Administration’s food safety website, sprouts — such as alfalfa, clover, radish, and mung bean sprouts — are a higher-risk food. This is because they are eaten raw and, unlike other fresh produce, need to grow in warm and humid environments — the ideal breeding grounds for dangerous bacteria such as salmonella, listeria, and E. coli. Washing them doesn’t always kill that potentially harmful bacteria.

Since 1996, there have been more than 30 outbreaks in the US associated with sprouts. In a recent analysis of food outbreaks in the US, sprouts were among the leading culprits.

3) The craziest thing they found in a food they tested…

We recently found a whole mouse in an energy drink!

Can’t really explain this one, but it’s pretty disturbing.

111 sick; US outbreak of Salmonella Enteritidis infections linked to bean sprouts

We count 61 outbreaks associated with raw sprouts, sickening at least 11,179.


sprout.apple.aug.14The U.S. Centers for Disease Control reports that as of December 15, 2014, a total of 111 people infected with the outbreak strains of Salmonella Enteritidis have been reported from 12 states.

Twenty-six percent of ill persons have been hospitalized. No deaths have been reported.  

Collaborative investigation efforts of state, local, and federal public health and regulatory agencies indicate that bean sprouts produced by Wonton Foods, Inc. are the likely source of this outbreak.

In interviews, 48 (66%) of 73 ill persons reported eating bean sprouts or menu items containing bean sprouts in the week before becoming ill.

Wonton Foods, Inc. continues to cooperate with state and federal public health and agriculture officials.

On November 21, 2014, Wonton Foods Inc. agreed to destroy any remaining products while they conducted a thorough cleaning and sanitization and implemented other Salmonella control measures. On November 24, the firm completed the cleaning and sanitation and resumed production of bean sprouts. The firm resumed shipment on November 29, 2014.

Contaminated bean sprouts produced by Wonton Foods, Inc. are likely no longer available for purchase or consumption given the maximum 12-day shelf life of mung bean sprouts.

CDC recommends that consumers, restaurants, and other retailers always practice food safety for sprouts

Children, older adults, pregnant women, and persons with weakened immune systems should avoid eating raw sprouts of any kind (including alfalfa, clover, radish, and mung bean sprouts).

Cook sprouts thoroughly to reduce the risk of illness. Cooking sprouts thoroughly kills any harmful bacteria.

CDC’s National Antimicrobial Resistance Monitoring System (NARMS) laboratory conducted antibiotic resistance testing on Salmonella Enteritidis isolates collected from three ill persons infected with the outbreak strains.

All three isolates were susceptible to all antibiotics tested on the NARMS panel.

This investigation is ongoing, and CDC will update the public when more information becomes available.

FDA to Virginia sprout producer: your place is still a dump

Coral Beach of The Packer writes that criminal charges may be the next step in Virginia’s efforts to protect the public from Henry’s Farm, a fresh sprout grower that has been on officials’ food safety radar because of listeria since April 2012.

kevin.allen.sproutThe 32-month case is the longest running investigation that Pam Miles, supervisor for the state agriculture department’s food safety and security program, can recall. Miles and Matt Ettinger, coordinator of the program’s food safety rapid response team, have been working with staff from the Food and Drug Administration on the problems at Henry’s Farm.

Ettinger said Henry’s owner, Soo Park, has made some improvements, but problems remain unresolved even though the business burned down in December 2012 and was rebuilt. Ettinger said Listeria has been found in product and on surfaces at the previous facility and the new growing facility.

A man who answered the phone at Henry’s Farm hung up when asked about the situation.

“We are currently considering what action we can take against them,” Miles said Dec. 3. “Compliance is voluntary. We don’t have administrative fines so we have to go through the criminal courts if a problem isn’t resolved and the public safety is at risk.”

Park voluntarily shut down operations at his Woodford, Va., facility in November after Virginia officials confiscated and destroyed all finished product, seeds and growing sprouts. The grower issued a recall Nov. 24. Because of the facility’s history of Listeria problems, Virginia food safety staff has been inspecting and testing at Henry’s every four months, Miles said.


Bean sprouts tainted with banned additive are again found in China

Bean sprouts are back in the news for all the wrong reasons. Not for the first time, Chinese inspectors have found bean sprouts tainted with a banned food additive, in this instance in a production center on the southern outskirts of Beijing.

sprout.chinaThe sprouts being produced at the site in Daxing district were treated with high levels of 6-benzyladenine, a plant hormone, to speed up the growth cycle and make them more attractive to buyers, The Beijing News reported this week. But the chemical can also harm consumers’ health, it said, causing premature puberty, disrupting menstrual cycles and contributing to osteoporosis.

Up to 20 tons of sprouts a day were sold to wholesale dealers in Beijing and in Hebei and Shandong Provinces, the newspaper said. Since the Beijing food and drug authorities conducted their spot check on Nov. 2, the Daxing site has been shut down and three associated vendors have been ordered to halt operations. The case remains under investigation, but no arrests have been reported.

24 sick with E. coli in Edmonton; sprouts link suspected

Thanks to the reporting of Coral Beach of The Packer, that E. coli outbreak in Edmonton, Alberta (that’s in Canada), is possibly linked to fresh bean sprouts from a local grower, according to a public health official.

Bean_sproutsThe Alberta Health Services issued a public warning Aug. 1 about E. coli, but did not name a grower and no recall has been issued.

As of Aug. 1, officials had confirmed 24 E. coli cases in the Edmonton area in the previous two weeks, according to multiple media reports. Calls to the Alberta Health Services were not immediately returned.

Dr. Christopher Sikora, lead medical officer for the Edmonton zone of the Alberta Health Services, is quoted by newspaper and radio reports as saying 21 of the sick people reported eating fresh bean sprouts before becoming ill. Five of the people had to be hospitalized.

“There is likely no ongoing risk to the public,” Sikora told the Edmonton Journal newspaper. “There is a single Edmonton-based producer for sprouts and we’re still investigating at this point in time. We may or may not find out the reason for the contamination.”

Epidemiology don’t matter; sprout grower says FDA’s E. coli tests are negative

From the epidemiology-doesn’t-count files, Idaho sprout grower Dave Scharf, owner of Evergreen Fresh Sprouts, says, “I have a clear conscious knowing my product is not what made people sick” after the Food and Drug Administration notified him that samples of his sprouts from a Jimmy John’s restaurant and seed at his growing operation did not test positive for the E. coli O121 that has sickened at least 10 people.

sprouts.sandwichThe negative test results don’t mean Scharf’s sprouts were not the cause of the illnesses, said Seattle food safety attorney Bill Marler, who is handling a case for Idaho resident Honey Sayler.

“It is not unusual for some samples to test negative,” Marler said June 2. “There are many different ways to prove a foodborne illness case and epidemiological (investigations) are admissible.”

Scharf said the FDA staff did not say when the remainder of test results are expected. He said his business is operating at about 50% capacity because of lagging orders.

“People are just running scared because of this,” Scharf said.

After all the sprout-related outbreaks, people are not scared, they’re being sensible.

A table of sprout-related outbreaks is available at: http://bites.ksu.edu/sprouts-associated-outbreaks

‘Superfood Co’ super-sucks with Salmonella on sprouted chia powder

Navitas Naturals, the Superfood Company is voluntarily recalling products which contain Organic Sprouted Chia Powder due to possible health risks related to Salmonella contamination. “We have chosen to voluntarily recall products containing Organic Sprouted Chia Powder with the goal of utmost safety for our consumers” stated Zach Adelman, Navitas Naturals CEO.

salm.chia.sprout.powderThe affected products were distributed nationally and include:

Navitas Naturals Organic Sprouted Chia Powder, 8oz, UPC 858847000369 with best buy dates from 04/30/2015 through 09/05/2015

Navitas Naturals Omega Blend Sprouted Smoothie Mix, 8oz, UPC 858847000314 with best buy dates from 07/29/2015 through 09/19/2015

Williams-Sonoma Omega 3 Smoothie Mixer, 8 oz, SKU 506436 with best buy dates from 09/12/2015 through 10/02/2015

No other Navitas Naturals products are affected by this recall.

Consumers who have purchased this item are urged to not eat the product, and to dispose of it or return it to the store where it was originally purchased.

Salmonella is an organism that can cause serious and sometimes fatal infections in young children elderly people, and others with weakened immune systems. Healthy persons infected with Salmonella often experience fever, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting and abdominal pain. In rare circumstances, infection with Salmonella can result in the organism getting into the bloodstream and producing more severe illnesses.

The company is working closely with FDA and California Department of Public Health on this issue. “Ensuring the premium quality of the superfoods we provide is our highest priority,” said Adelman.” We stand behind the safety and integrity of our products and their valuable superfood nutrients,” confirmed Adelman.

Customers with questions or who would like product replacements or refunds may contact 888-886-3879 between 8:00-4:30 PST, Monday through Friday.

Still a failure to communicate; sprouts suck

In the latest installment of, we told ya so (but we’d never say that), the U.S. Centers for Disease Control reports that in May 2011, public health authorities in Europe began investigating an outbreak of Shiga toxin–producing Escherichia coli (STEC) O104:H4 infections that ultimately involved more than 4,000 persons in 16 countries. Early in the outbreak, it became evident that international surveillance would be necessary to determine the scope of the outbreak, characterize the disease, and identify the source.

This report describes surveillance conducted in the United States, which involved active case-finding, use of laboratory testing protocols specific to non-O157 STEC, interviews to identify potential exposures of interest, and documentation of clinical courses. Six cases in the United States were associated with the outbreak. Although European epidemiologic studies, including analyses of restaurant cohorts and traceback investigations, ultimately kevin.allen_.sprout-300x158implicated raw fenugreek sprouts as the food vehicle, none of the patients in the United States definitively recalled sprout consumption. These events highlight challenges in investigating outbreaks, particularly those caused by rare pathogens or associated with food vehicles that are consumed in small quantities as part of other dishes. Clinical laboratories should adhere to STEC testing recommendations because they are critical for identification of rare or novel STEC pathogens. Robust public health infrastructure is necessary to effectively manage and resolve foodborne outbreaks.

During May 26–June 16, six confirmed cases were identified in five states: Arizona (one), Massachusetts (one), Michigan (two), North Carolina (one), and Wisconsin (one). Ages of patients ranged from 38 to 72 years (median: 52 years); two patients were female. Five reported travel to or from Germany in the 3 weeks before their illness; the additional secondary case was in a close relative of a patient who had traveled. Patients reported consumption of various fresh produce items while in Germany, such as tomatoes, lettuce, and cucumbers. However, none recalled consumption of sprouts, the food vehicle ultimately implicated in the outbreak. All patients had diarrhea, including four (66%) with bloody diarrhea. Four (66%) patients were reported by physicians to have developed HUS, requiring dialysis and ventilator support. One patient died.

Microbiologic characterization of the pathogens isolated from clinical specimens demonstrated STEC O104:H4 within all specimens, with a PFGE pattern indistinguishable from the outbreak strain. This strain combines features of the STEC and enteroaggregative (EAEC) pathotypes of Escherichia coli. All isolates were positive for the stx2a gene, which encodes a Shiga toxin variant often associated with severe E. coli illness, such as bloody diarrhea or HUS (7). Additionally, all isolates were positive for the aggR gene, which encodes a regulator of virulence plasmid and chromosomal genes and is characteristic of EAEC (7). The strains were negative for the eae gene, which encodes a mucosal adherence protein in most STEC (7). Isolates from the six patients had almost identical antimicrobial resistance profiles; all were resistant to ampicillin, ceftriaxone, streptomycin, sulfisoxazole, tetracycline, and trimethoprim/sulfamethoxazole.

On July 5, 2011, the European Union banned importation of fenugreek seeds and various other seeds, beans, and sprouts from Egypt. Worldwide surveillance continued for an additional 3 weeks, but no new cases were identified. On July 26, public health authorities in Germany declared the outbreak to be over. The final case count was 4,075 cases (including 908 cases complicated by HUS) and 50 deaths in 16 countries.

Sprout safety issue requires industry reinforcement – and verification

Manuals and guidelines are nice, but without implementation, coupled with meaningful verification, they’re sorta useless.

Steffanie Smith of the Sprout Alliance for Safety and Science board member
Partner, California Sprouts, writes to The Packer about our paper, “Failures in sprouts-related risk communication,” a study scheduled to be published in the April 2013 issue of the journal Food Control.

While we agree with the fact that there have been several outbreaks in sprouts over the last several years, we disagree with the assumption that sprouts are not safe to consume raw.

We formed the alliance because our member companies have proven sprouts can be grown safely if companies are dedicated to following rigorous food safety practices.

Since 1999, there have been a number of sprout growers that have been diligent in following Food and Drug Administration guidance and have instituted comprehensive and sprout-appropriate good manufacturing practices.

Those companies have a long history of not being associated with an outbreak.

While there is no fresh produce product that can ever be absolutely safe, sprouts can be produced that meet all the safety expectations consumers hold for fresh produce.

The challenge in the industry has been to get and keep growers in compliance.

Since there are growers that do and growers that don’t comply, we formed the Sprout Alliance for Safety and Science for growers that not only want to comply with FDA guidance, but are willing to implement and comply with rigorous alliance standards as well.

Members of the Sprout Alliance for Safety and Science did not believe, as an industry, we could wait until the Illinois Institute of Technology’s Sprout Safety Alliance process is complete before providing member companies with state-of-the art recommendations on how to implement the current guidance, as well as the expanded alliance requirements for producing safe sprouts.

To that end, SASS has created a technical committee made up of leading food safety experts who will be further developing and continuously updating the set of alliance standards.

There is a commitment among some sprout companies to meet and even exceed the FDA guidance in order to produce safe sprouts.

Through the alliance, we want to help educate foodservice and retail customers, as well as the end consumer, that a choice exists.