Government food safety officials say a listeria-related sprout recall by Henry’s Farm Inc. is hampered because the sprouts were distributed without lot codes or other traceable labeling and the company's records are incomplete.
As of May 3, no illnesses had been reported, but it was not known what quantities of the Spring Water Soybean Sprouts and Spring Water Natto Soybean Sprouts had been distributed.
Investigators were also unsure who bought the sprouts because of inadequate records. They believe ethnic markets and restaurants are the primary customers of Soo Park, the owner of Henry’s Farm, Woodford, Va.
“After reviewing records, we don’t feel we can give an accurate estimate on the volume that has been distributed – and certainly not a definitive answer,” said Elaine Lidholm, director of communications for the Virginia agriculture department.
“His records are incomplete and his labeling is inadequate so it’s difficult to determine how much product he moves. FDA and (our department) will determine a course of regulatory action. If he continues production, we can observe his process from beginning to end first hand and know from that point on how much he is distributing and to whom.
The initial April 27 recall involved sprouts sent to Virginia, Maryland and Washington, D.C. Test samples taken by the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Safety showed positive results for listeria monocytogenes.
Henry’s Farm expanded the recall April 30 to include the natto sprouts. Calls to the company did not go through because its voicemail system was full and not accepting messages.
Lidholm said inspectors from the department and the Food and Drug Administration were at Henry’s Farm the week of April 30 as part of a continuing investigation. She said an interpreter might have to be called in to communicate with the owner.
The initial test samples came from product displayed at retail on April 17.
“This is gonna be a hard one since we don’t know how many were distributed initially due to no lot coding,” Lifholm said. “We’re going after this hot and heavy.”
The soybean sprouts are in 1.5-pound clear plastic packages and 10-pound plastic bags; the natto soybean sprouts are in 1-pound packages.
The FDA issued a recall notice on the sprouts that was dated April 30, but it was not posted on the agency’s website or sent to alert subscribers until May 2.