The Idaho (USA) produce company whose sprouts were found to be contaminated with Salmonella bacteria this week is not going along with approved U.S. food safety policies. Yes, it has halted production of those sprouts, but it is refusing to recall any products already out there on store shelves and at restaurants in Idaho, Montana, and Washington state.
As a result, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has had to itself issue an alert to consumers, advising them not to eat Evergreen Produce alfalfa sprouts or spicy sprouts (see Alerts column on this blog). Of course, as has been suggested,the FDA could do the recall itself, but by the time it gets organized for this new power it's been given, there may be nothing left to recall. After all, big bureaucracies are unwieldy and slow to move and sprouted seeds have a short shelf-life.
Although I don't agree with what they are doing - or rather, not doing, I have to admit that I do understand why Evergreen has taken a stand against public health interests. Recalling products is expensive, and the chances are that they don't have insurance for this. During the current recession, many fresh vegetable and sprout producers have found their insurance rates going through the roof while sales have gone down.
Besides, they feel they have been careful, followed the rules, and they conduct both regular water testing and sprout sample testing of their own - with negative results for these bacteria. To them, the FDA has simply not proven that their product is "bad." "It's all speculation, assumptions," the co-owner said in an interview. The FDA inspection of the facility, and the test taken, have so far not turned up the bacteria involved.
It could well be that inspection and testing never turns up the contaminant at the sprout grower's. That is not unusual. It has happened in several instances, including at least one this year. I spoke with the owner of this other sprout farm involved, while the FDA was still crawling all over his plant. He was in tears. He listed everything he was doing. And believe me, he really was going beyond what was required, to keep his sprouts safe. But, unlike the owners of Evergreen Produce, he wanted to make 100% sure that he protected those who sold and ate his sprouts, so he immediately put out a recall anyway.
It is quite possible that both Evergreen and other accused sprout growers in the U.S., France and Germany, are totally blameless . Their plant and equipment could be clean, the workers healthy, and the water used free of contaminants. The problem could be with the seeds they innocently bought (see previous post). Decontamination measures may not have completely worked completely (they often don't - see post on 7/3 - "Accused Sprout Farmer Could be Innocent").
Albeit, if their sprouts are indeed found to be contaminated, they will suffer enormous financial losses, and maybe even lose their business. Now you can see why I feel sorry for them. Farming is a tough business. I know, I've done it.
To your good health!