FDA details hazards at sprout producer; who was the auditor

Why are these problems always found after the outbreak?

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration shows up after the outbreak, which is why retailers like Jimmy John’s hire third-party auditors to verify the safety of their suppliers. Someone may want to ask Jimmy John’s, how does someone become eligible to supply ingredients for the sandwich artists? Any food safety criteria?

Can’t wait to find out who the third-party auditor of this sprout outfit was – and yet another reason company’s with their names on product, like Jimmy John’s, should be using their own people who may actually care about the brand. Or making people barf.

According to CIDRAP, FDA says it found a variety of possible contamination sources responsible for the salmonella-in-sprouts outbreak that has sickened 125 people, primarily in Indiana and primarily related to eating sandwiches from Jimmy John’s.

The FDA findings are detailed in a Form 483 report the the agency released following its inspection at Tiny Greens Organic Farm of Urbana, Ill. In December the firm recalled alfalfa sprouts and Spicy Sprouts (a mixture of alfalfa, radish, and clover sprouts) after they were implicated in an investigation of Salmonella cases in people who got sick after eating at Jimmy John’s restaurants.

The latest update from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, on Jan 14, put the size of the outbreak at 125 cases in 22 states and Washington, DC. The FDA found a Salmonella isolate matching the outbreak strain, known as I 4,[5],12:i:-, in a sample of runoff water from the company.

The FDA’s 6-page inspection report says the company grew sprouts in "soil from the organic material decomposed outside" without using any monitored "kill step" on it.

These were among the other FDA findings:

* An "amphibian/reptile" was kept in the reception room of the firm, which adjoined the production area.
* The firm couldn’t show that its antimicrobial treatment for seeds, which was not specifically described in the report, was equivalent to the recommended treatment with a bleach solution.
* Employees stored their lunches, including such items as raw bacon, in the same cooler where finished sprouts were stored.
* Organic matter was seen on a table where sprouts were packaged, and a "biofilm-like buildup" was seen on sprouting trays after they were cleaned.
* What looked like mold was seen on walls and ceiling in a mung-bean sprouting room.
* Condensation dripped from the ceiling in production areas throughout the inspection period, which lasted close to a month.
* An outside lab that the firm used to test its water and sprouts used a method that was not validated for detecting Salmonella in those items.


Salmonella-in-sprouts sick climbs to 125, water sample positive

As soon as Tiny Greens of Illinois was fingered as the source of the suspect sprouts in a salmonella outbreak largely linked to Jimmy John’s sandwiches, an astute public health-type e-mailed me and said, “check out their water supply.”

I’m not sure what water is being used where and for what, but according to the Tiny Greens website, they recycle all water.

“At Tiny Greens, we have one of the only complete systems that we are aware of to clean, improve, and re-use our water. The natural biological processes that are continually present in the undisturbed eco-systems around us are utilized in a controlled environment to clean and re-cycle our water.”

Here’s what looks like the important point:

“Next, the middle layer of clarified wastewater liquid flows out of the septic tank into a sand filter. The sand filter uses outside air, thus further treating the water aerobically (using bacteria requiring oxygen). Sand filters provide a high level of treatment and normally produce effluent that tests 99.9% bacteria and virus-free. … Sand filters are the preferred treatment method at Tiny Greens and their nutrient-rich, disinfected water can be utilized as free fertilizing water for growing plants."

99.9 per cent may sound impressive, but may also mean crap (literally).

On Friday, CDC announced that from Nov. 1, 2010, through Jan. 11, 2011, 125 individuals infected with the outbreak strain of Salmonella serotype I 4,[5],12:i:-, whose illnesses began since November 1, have been reported from 22 states and the District of Columbia. Results of the investigation indicate a link to eating Tiny Greens Alfalfa Sprouts or Spicy Sprouts at Jimmy John’s restaurant outlets.

Testing by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) of one environmental (water run-off) sample identified Salmonella serotype I 4,[5],12:i:- that is indistinguishable from the outbreak strain.

Tiny Greens’ owner Bill Bagby criticized testing by the FDA and the Illinois Department of Public Health as not being comprehensive enough.

“The [FDA statement] is misleading. That burns me up! … I learn something from every single inspector that comes here. Looking at all of this in a positive way, this is a chance for us to do something better.”