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Sprouts Outbreak Linked to Illinois Organic Farm

by Mary Rothschild, Food Safety News

Dec 28, 2010

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced Monday that an organic farm in Illinois is the possible source of a Salmonella outbreak that has sickened at least 89 people in 15 states and the District of Columbia.

The FDA, in a news release, advised consumers not to eat alfalfa sprouts or spicy sprouts (a mix of alfalfa sprouts and radish and clover sprouts) from Tiny Greens Organic Farm of Urbana, IL. It said the suspect sprouts were distributed in 4 oz. and 5 lb. containers to farmers' markets, restaurants and grocery stores in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Missouri and possibly other Midwestern states.

The agency, which is investigating along with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Illinois Department of Public Health and other state health authorities, said it is working with Tiny Greens. It said the farm has been "preliminarily linked" to the multistate outbreak of Salmonella infections.

The farm was a supplier of Jimmy John's Gourmet Sandwiches outlets, according to the FDA. Approximately half of the illnesses linked to sprouts have occurred in Illinois, where nearly all of the ill individuals reported eating sandwiches containing sprouts at various Jimmy John's outlets.

Jimmy John's has stopped serving sprouts on its sandwiches at all its Illinois locations.

Tiny Greens, according to its website, is an organic farm in central Illinois that has been growing sprouts using hydroponics since 1986. The owners say their year-round operation grows more than 16 varieties of sprouts, including mung beans, alfalfa and red clover sprouts, and that their seeds are grown in compost that they create themselves from a mixture of year-old woodchips and leftover sprouts.

The FDA frequently reminds consumers that sprouts are a known source of foodborne illness. Since 1996, it says, there have been at least 30 reported outbreaks, mostly of Salmonella and E. coli, associated with different types of raw and lightly cooked sprouts. In many of the outbreaks, according to the FDA, the sprout seeds have been the source of the harmful bacteria.

The FDA advises children, the elderly, pregnant women, and persons with weakened immune systems to avoid eating raw sprouts of any kind (including alfalfa, clover, radish and mung bean sprouts). To reduce the chance of foodborne illness, FDA advises consumers to cook sprouts thoroughly and to request that raw sprouts not be added to food such as sandwiches.

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