The Food and Drug Administration sent warning letters to two sprout operations, one in Arizona and one in California, in February, citing concerns about unsanitary conditions and food safety.
A letter sent to Arizona Hydroponic Farming LLC, Eloy, Ariz., stated the company’s sprouts had been linked to a three-state outbreak of Salmonella Cubana that sickened at least 14 people between July 30 and Oct. 25 last year.
Neither the FDA nor the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention posted information about the outbreak at the time. Officials from the agencies confirmed that they did investigate the outbreak. However, they said there are so many outbreaks that they do not make public details about all of them that are investigated.
Arizona Hydroponic owner Ting Hsiao did not respond to repeated calls for comment.
According to the FDA’s Feb. 11 letter, inspectors checked Hsiao’s operation on Sept. 18-20 and again Sept. 28-Oct. 3, collecting samples of finished sprouts and spent irrigation water. The samples tested positive for Salmonella Cubana.
A follow-up inspection Oct. 23-26 at Arizona Hydroponic showed continuing problems including unprotected water sources for evaporative coolers, birds around the water source, animal excrement near a well head used to irrigate sprouts, improper sink and floor drainage, and heavy residue on drums and tubs used for sprouting.
The FDA warning letter said some improvements had been made, but that Hsiao needed to complete corrections and provide documentation to the agency.
Alfred Louie Inc.
In a Feb. 21 warning letter to Alfred Louie Inc., Bakersfield, Calif., the FDA cited multiple problems with sanitation found during an inspection of its sprout packing operation Sept. 19-Oct. 10. The letter to owner Gordon Louie said some issues had been resolved, but said others still needed to be addressed.
The FDA also wants Louie to provide documentation showing what he has done to correct problems.
“I’m really confused about why they sent this warning letter,” Louie said Feb. 25. “We did 85% of what they wanted at the time. I guess they want photos or something.”
The warning letter mentioned numerous sanitary concerns, including employees eating and packing sprouts with bare hands, failure to clean machines and food contact surfaces between mung bean sprout and soybean sprout packing, standing water on the floors, rodent gnaw holes and dropping, live flies and a dead mouse in the packing and storage areas, and condensation dripping on to exposed produce.
Louie said he had not yet responded to the Feb. 21 warning letter. The FDA requires businesses to respond to warning letters within 15 working days.