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Urbana Farm Issues Sprout Recall After FDA Health Warning

The owner of Tiny Greens Organic Farm in Urbana is recalling alfalfa sprouts that are suspected of being tainted with salmonella after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued a warning Monday advising the public to stay away from the sprouts.

"If I have a problem, I want to fix it," Tiny Greens' CEO Bill Bagby said. "If it's not, I want it to be known."

Bagby alerted his customers about the recall early Tuesday morning. His client list includes grocery stores and restaurants across the Midwest.

The FDA warning came a week after one of the company's clients, the Jimmy John's restaurant chain, stopped serving the sprouts in Illinois. The sprouts are linked to dozens of salmonella outbreaks in 12 counties, including Champaign, McLean, and Cook. Bagby said if his farm is the source of the outbreak, he questioned why there were no other reported cases of people becoming ill after eating food with salmonella from other companies that also get sprouts from the Urbana farm.

Efforts by the FDA and the Illinois Department of Public Health to identify contaminated sprouts at the farm have led to no positive results of salmonella. But Don Kraemer, the acting deputy director with the FDA's Center for Food Safety, said a preliminary review shows there was enough evidence to issue the warning.

"We traced back from the patients to the restaurants that they ate at and determined who supplied them with the sprouts, and virtually all of them were supplied by Tiny Greens," Kraemer said.

The sprouts in question were distributed to farmers' markets, restaurants and grocery stores in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Missouri and possibly other Midwestern states. Bagby said it was premature for the FDA to issue the warning based on statistical evidence.

"They've got nothing," Bagby said. "And now they're swabbing the terrarium in the office. They found a bird's nest outside of the facility, and found bird droppings. I mean they're doing everything. They're going to for sure find salmonella this time. It's not going to be related to this."

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention reports that from Nov. 1 to Dec. 21, around 90 people across the country became sick with a matching strain of salmonella. More than half of those cases were in Illinois. The Illinois Department of Public Health's Kelly Jakubek said the last case of someone in Illinois getting sick with salmonella after eating a sprout was on Dec. 7, but she said an investigation is ongoing.

"We'll continue to look at sprout producers and distributors," Jakubek said. "It's very important that anyone who becomes ill after eating alfalfa sprouts, it's very important that they contact their health provider."

Bagby said he will cooperate with the investigation. He said his mandatory recall has had a significant impact on his business going from distributing around 10,000 pounds of alfalfa sprouts a week to a thousand pounds.

"It's already hurt my business," he said.

Products subject to this recall include: 4 oz. Spicy Sprouts and our 4oz., 1lb., 2lb., & 5lb., Alfalfa Sprouts (all package sizes) with lot codes 348, 350, or 354 or having a "sell by" date of 12/29/10, 12/31/10 and 1/04/11. Additionally, any product containing alfalfa sprouts that remain on the market with the following lot numbers 305 thru 348 or "sell by" dates from 12/16/10 thru 12/29/10 will also be recalled.

The warning issued Monday includes a mix called Spicy Sprouts, which contain radish and clover sprouts.

Most persons infected with salmonella develop diarrhea, fever, and abdominal cramps 12 to 72 hours after infection, according to the CDC. Young children, the elderly, and the immunocompromised are the most likely to have severe infections. Illness usually wears off after three to seven days.

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