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Publisher’s Platform: Wise words from Barfblog — What is the one food you will not eat? Raw sprouts tops the list, always



Opinion

According to the FDA, Sprouts Unlimited of Marion, IA, is recalling clover spouts in 4-ounce packages because they may be contaminated with Escherichia coli O103 bacteria (E. coli O103).

The affected batches of clover sprouts were distributed to Hy-Vee Food Stores, Fareway Food Stores and Jimmy John’s restaurants in Iowa.

The sprouts available at retail were packaged in in pint containers from Sprouts Unlimited Inc. with a blue label on the lid. The UPC code 7 32684 00013 6 is stamped on the bottom right side of the label.

Sprouts Unlimited Inc. became aware of the potential contamination after receiving information from the Iowa Department of Inspections and Appeals, Des Moines, IA, that a cluster of E. coli O103 illnesses epidemiologically linked to clover sprouts from Sprouts Unlimited Inc. An investigation and further tests are being conducted to determine the source.

Sprouts have long been a problem as my friend Doug has repeatedly warned on Barfblog:

Kate Bernot of The Take Out wrote, “If you ask anyone in food safety, ‘What is the one food you will not eat?’ Raw sprouts tops the list, always.”

That’s one of the first sentences out of the mouth of Doug Powell, a former professor of food safety and the publisher of barfblog, a frequently updated site that publishes evidence-based opinions on food safety.

I’ve asked him whether food-safety fears about sprouts—those tiny, crunchy squiggles in your salad or sandwich—are well-founded. He tells me the public isn’t concerned enough about them.

“Risk is inherent in the nature of the product which is why Walmart and Costco got rid of them,” he says. (Kroger also stopped selling sprouts in 2012.) “This is not a new problem. It’s been going on for decades.”

According to a paper he and three colleagues published in the journal Food Control in 2012, sprouts have been responsible for at least 55 documented foodborne outbreaks affecting more than 15,000 people globally in the past two decades. The Food And Drug Administration tallies 46 reported outbreaks of foodborne illness in the United States linked to sprouts between 1996 and 2016, accounting for for 2,474 illnesses, 187 hospitalizations, and three deaths. In an effort to reduce these outbreaks, the FDA in 2017 collected 825 samples of sprouts from across the U.S.; 14 of those tested positive for E. coli, listeria, or Salmonella.