In the time frame prior to the outbreak, Moyie, Idaho-based Evergreen Sprouts LLC supplied raw clover sprouts to seven restaurants at which nine people became ill from E. coli 0121, according to the June 10 FDA report.
The restaurants are in Washington and Idaho and include Jimmy John’s Gourmet Sandwiches, Pita Pit and Daanen’s Deli.
Dave Scharf, Evergreen’s owner, does not think his company is responsible for the outbreak.
“All the tests that have come back have been negative,” Scharf said. “If they’re all negative, it has to be something else, doesn’t it?”
Tests not only at Evergreen, but also at Jimmy John’s, came back negative, Scharf said.
Sprout sales at Evergreen were down about 50% as a result of the investigation, Scharf said. He said it will take the company six months to a year to fully recover.
As of June 9, 17 people in Washington, Idaho, Michigan, Montana and Utah were infected with E. coli 0121, according to the report. Almost half were hospitalized. No deaths were reported.
Twelve of the 14 people sickened reported eating raw clover sprouts in the week before becoming ill.
Scharf said that’s not proof that the sprouts made them sick.
“I have no idea. I wasn’t there, I didn’t watch their eating habits before they got sick. Based on nine peoples’ faulty memories, they think, ‘It has to be sprouts.’”
In addition to linking Evergreen to the outbreak, the FDA made several discoveries in three inspections at the company in May and June:
- Water dripping from rusty valves directly into sprouting vats containing growing sprouts;
- A rusty mung bean room watering system;
- Tennis rackets with scratches, chips, and frayed plastic being used to scoop sprouts;
- A pitchfork with corroded metal used to transfer sprouts into plastic tubs; and
- A squeegee with visible corroded metal and non-treated wood to agitate mung bean seeds inside a vat.
Scharf disputed some of the FDA inspection claims and said he has made repairs in response to others. He doesn’t believe any of the conditions could have led to E. coli contamination.
One of the people sickened, Honey Sayler, has filed a lawsuit against Evergreen and Jimmy John’s.
In response to the outbreak, and numerous ones in recent years linked to sprouts, Sayler’s attorney, Bill Marler, is calling for the FDA to label sprouts as potentially hazardous.
Marler said the label should be similar to that found on unpasteurized juices.