Although the grower and seed supplier say government officials told them tests came back clean, the Food and Drug Administration declared contaminated sprout seeds are the likely cause of an E. coli outbreak.
Eighteen people in five states are confirmed to have been sickened with E. coli 0121 infections from May 1-20. Additional illnesses could still be identified because of up to three weeks lag time between exposure and lab confirmation, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Contaminated seeds used by Evergreen Produce, Moyie Springs, Idaho, are likely the root cause of the E. coli 0121 outbreak, according to the FDA, which also reported food safety issues at the growing facility. FDA officials have declined comment because of the agency’s policies regarding ongoing investigations.
Confirmed illnesses so far have sent almost half of the victims to hospitals, but the grower David Scharf has not issued a recall, maintaining there is no proof his fresh sprouts are the cause.
Scharf said all of the tests the government has done on his sprouts collected from restaurants and his operation, plus tests they did on equipment, water and seeds, have come back negative for the outbreak strain and other pathogens.
“They can’t prove anything with microbiology,” Scharf said June 30. “All they have is peoples’ memories with the epidemiology and that’s not proof.”
Jack Zimmer, co-owner of Pineview Horticulture Services Inc., Hayden, Idaho, said the FDA took 30 one-pound samples of crimson clover seed from his business.
“They said it all came back clear with no shiga toxin producing E. coli,” Zimmer said, “but they said they would prefer that I change lots.”
Zimmer said he ordered a new lot. He said he has 700 pounds of seed from the lot FDA tested, which he will either return to his supplier or sell for agricultural purposes other than human consumption. He said he was not surprised the tests were negative because he tests seed when he receives it and did not get any positive results for the suspect lot.
Scharf said he tests his finished sprouts, spent water and surfaces in his facility for E. coli 0157, but not for the 0121 strain that is linked to the current outbreak.