(UPDATED COVERAGE, Oct. 23) The Kroger Co., citing a "thorough, science-based" review, is no longer selling sprouts at any of its stores.
Cincinnati-based Kroger, the second-largest U.S. retailer behind Wal-Mart, is following in the footsteps of that retailer, which stopped selling sprouts in 2010.
"Sprouts present a unique challenge because pathogens may reside inside of the seeds where they cannot be reached by the currently available processing interventions," said Payton Pruett, Kroger"s vice president of food safety, in an Oct. 19 news release. "Out of an abundance of caution, the Kroger family of stores will no longer sell fresh sprouts or procure other foods that are produced on the same equipment as sprouts."
Deliveries of sprouts to Kroger distribution centers were scheduled to stop Oct. 22, according to the release. Calls to Kroger officials for additional comment were not returned.
Kroger has 2,425 supermarkets and multi-department stores in 31 states under banners including Kroger, Dillons, Food 4 Less, Fred Meyer, Fry"s, King Soopers and Ralphs, according to the release.
Bob Sanderson, president of the International Sprout Growers Association and owner of Jonathan"s Sprouts in Rochester, Mass., disagrees with the assumption that current sprout growing and packaging techniques are inadequate in terms of food safety.
"The phrase ‘science-based review" slips off the tongue easily," Sanderson said referring to the Kroger news release. "But even though some sprouts have had some problems, many people eat them every day with no issues."
Sanderson said the sprout growing community is "dismayed" by the Kroger decision.
"A lot of growers depended on them as a crucial account for their business," Sanderson said.
Kroger joins a growing list of companies that have dropped all varieties of sprouts, including Jason"s Delis. The Jimmy John's chain stopped offering sprouts after an outbreak in early 2012, at least the fourth one at the sandwich restaurant chain since 2008. Subway has not had sprouts on its menu.
Most retail chains continue to offer fresh sprouts, including West Des Moines, Iowa-based Hy-Vee Inc. stocks fresh sprouts. Director of produce Bill Kelley said he can"t guarantee that every Hy-Vee store sells sprouts because purchasing decisions are made at the store level, but he said the chain"s corporate leadership has not taken a stand against sprouts.
Meijer Inc., Grand Rapids, Mich., is also continuing its fresh sprout program. It operates 199 supercenters and grocery stores throughout Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois and Kentucky. Meijer spokesman Frank Guglielmi told the Columbus Dispatch newspaper that the chain uses a single supplier for fresh sprouts.
In Minneapolis, officials at Supervalu Inc. are considering the situation.
"Food safety is out top priority and we are reviewing our sprout program," said Mike Siemienas, SuperValu spokesman.
Fresh sprouts have been the subject of 24 food safety recalls since 2007, mostly for salmonella and listeria found in random samples, according to the Food and Drug Administration.
Staff writer Coral Beach contributed to this report.