(UPDATED COVERAGE, April 27) Alfa Sprouts Inc., Honeoye Falls, N.Y., voluntarily recalled a total of 100 pounds of its Springwater Sprouts brand organic alfalfa sprouts and bulk clover sprouts because of possible listeria contamination.
The recall notice on the Food and Drug Administration website was dated April 25 but automatic notifications to subscribers were not sent out until April 26. No illnesses had been reported as of April 26.
Officials with Alfa Sprouts Inc. said April 27 they had confirmed with all of their customers that the recalled sprouts had been removed from the supply chain. This is the first recall in the company’s history, officials said.
Fifteen pounds of the organic alfalfa sprouts were distributed in clear clamshells in New York with sell by dates of April 28. The Universal Product Codes of the recalled organic alfalfa sprouts are 688267047411 and 042891000523.
About 87 pounds of the clover sprouts, in 3-pound bulk containers with a production code of P93 were distributed to institutional accounts in upstate New York, the notice said.
Bill Nie, owner of the 35-year-old sprout growing operation, said April 27 that his first notification about the possible listeria contamination came with a knock on the door April 25 when inspectors showed up at his business and asked him to cease operations and throw out all existing product in production.
The possible listeria contamination was found when New York Department of Agriculture officials did a random sampling April 16 for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Microbiological Data Program at two distribution centers.
“We are cooperating fully,” Nie said. “We threw out about 5.8 tons of product, which is equal to about 10 days of sales and a $30,000 loss for us.
“We’ve got 25 employees and the ones who are trained in cleaning I can keep on, but the others, well, we are effectively shut down until further notice. But some of my workers said they would take leave without pay and others are working for free to help us get through this.
Nie and his business partner Steve Horan, who is the food safety manager for the company, are paying for a team of experts to travel from Seattle to New York to inspect and review the sprout growing operation and make suggestions.
State inspectors took swab samples from the growing operation on April 25, but it takes a week to 10 days to get results.
“We take food safety very seriously,” Nie said. “We’ve worked with Cornell researchers and given food safety tours of our operation to other sprout growers. We had our first safety audit in 1999 and have had superior ratings every year since then.”
Horan said he wasn’t sure how many product samples the state officials tested. He said he is particularly puzzled and concerned that listeria was found.
He said the company has strict protocols, beginning with the fact that they buy “safer seed” that has been sanitized by the supply company. Seed delivery trucks and bags of seed are inspected visually and again with a black light to check for possible rodent contamination.
The next step is additional visual seed screening, sanitization and rinsing before sprouting. Water is tested 48 hours into the sprouting cycle. They use a hold and release approach, waiting for result from IEH Laboratory before sending sprouts into the supply chain, Horan said.
“My 6-year-old daughter eats my sprouts every day, so does my grandmother who has a depressed immune system, and Bill’s pregnant daughter eats our sprouts. We do everything we can to make sure we are producing safe food,” Horan said.