Concerns among some in the fresh sprout industry about public perception of their products and producers who are not using best practices have spurred the creation of a new trade association focusing on food safety.

A founder’s meeting of the Sprout Alliance for Safety and Science (SASS) is scheduled Nov. 7. The agenda includes a review and adoption of standards, said Steffanie Smith, co-owner of California Sprouts LLC, Rancho Cordova, Calif., and one of the organizers of the new group.

The group’s board of directors and bylaws are expected to be established at the meeting. Other founding members of SASS include Hanover Foods Corp., Hanover, Pa., and Pearson Foods Corp., Grand Rapids, Mich.

“We are proactively creating an alliance of members who are dedicated to taking an aggressive and active role in creating and adopting more rigorous science-based food safety standards,” Smith said in a news release announcing the new group.

New sprout safety group plans fast actionSmith, immediate past chairwoman of Washington, D.C.-based United Fresh Produce Association, said Nov. 1 that some of the founders are involved with the Sprout Safety Alliance. That group, which formed earlier this year, is funded with a one-year $100,000 grant from the Food and Drug Administration and is based at the Institute for Food Safety and Health (IFSH) at the Illinois Institute of Technology.

“We don’t have any dissatisfaction with the work being done by the group at IFSH,” Smith said. “But we wanted to help the industry and consumers by getting some additional information out a little faster. We will continue to work with that group.”

The standards set for adoption on Nov. 7 include the FDA’s 1999 industry guidance for sprouted seeds and its 2008 guidance on minimizing microbial food safety hazards on fresh-cut fruits and vegetables.

SASS membership requirements include adherence to FDA guidelines and:

  • Current SQF or GFSI certification;
  • Submission to a risk assessment inspection;
  • Certification that includes irrigation water testing and unannounced inspections; and
  • Ongoing training and education programs.

Dues amounts had not been set as of Nov. 1, but Smith said the group is not a marketing order or a commodity board. It is a trade association.

Bob and Barb Sanderson, owners of Jonathan Sprouts Inc., Rochester, Mass., are active with the Sprout Safety Alliance and the International Sprout Growers Association. Barb Sanderson said Nov. 1 that one reason the FDA-funded group is taking so much time to issue educational materials is that public-private ventures have additional approval hoops to jump through unlile the private SASS.

“I wish we could have had everything done yesterday,” Barb Sanderson said, “but government approval just doesn’t work that way. We are glad to see additional industry interest in promoting safe practices and helping consumers understand the nutritional value of sprouts.”

Stephen Grove, a co-coordinator of the FDA-funded group at IFSH, said recently that work is progressing on the curriculum it was charged with developing.

“The technical working group is currently working on at least four different chapters of the curriculum, identifying best practices, discussing content for the chapters, as well as actually writing up the chapters,” Grove said.

“The outreach and education working group (had) their first conference call … and discussed the needs to be addressed in order to disseminate the information to the sprout industry.”