FDA details hazards at Illinois sprout producer

Feb 7, 2011 (CIDRAP News) – The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) says it found a variety of possible contamination sources, such as biofilms on surfaces and questionable antimicrobial treatment for seeds, at an Illinois firm whose sprouts have been implicated in a Salmonella outbreak.

The FDA findings are detailed in a Form 483 report that 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.

In an update on the investigation, the FDA said Tiny Greens had committed itself to taking necessary corrective steps.

See also:

FDA tiny greens 483 report

Dec 28 news scan about linkage of Tiny Greens to Salmonella outbreak

Dec 27 FDA news release on Tiny Greens, with later updates

Jan 14 CDC update on the outbreak investigation

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