Weeks after issuing a public warning and taking samples at Evergreen Fresh Sprouts, Moyie Springs, Idaho, the Food and Drug Administration has confirmed that test results for possible salmonella contamination were negative.
Despite the negative results, a trade press liaison with the FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition said in an e-mail July 27 that the alfalfa and spicy sprouts from Evergreen were “clearly implicated” in a salmonella outbreak.
“The pathogen may have been in only one portion of the food,” the message from Stephen King stated. “The epidemiologic investigation clearly implicated the sprouts as the cause of this outbreak, and the cases of reported illness stopped after the public was warned not to eat these sprouts.”
The outbreak began April 12 and ran through July 5, according to a report from the Centers for Disease Control on July 6. However, Nadine Scharf, owner of the 23-year-old business, said that no one from the FDA contacted her until June 20. A total of 25 people in five states reportedly became ill. Three people were admitted to hospitals in relation to the outbreak, according to the CDC.
Scharf said July 28 that the FDA faxed her the negative test results on July 25. She forwarded those results, which are dated July 21, to The Packer along with a news release she distrubuted to media in her area.
“Our business has been attacked by an overall blanket statement that Evergreen Produce has contaminated sprouts with salmonella,” Scharf states in her release. “... We have been operating for 23 years without one incident of bacteria — E. coli or salmonella — being found in our sprouts or facility. It appears to us that in today’s society one is guilty until proven innocent. Our business has greatly suffered because of the false reports from the press releases broadcast by the state and federal agencies.”
The FDA issued a public warning June 27 telling the public not to eat Evergreen sprouts. The agency asked Scharf to issue a voluntary recall, but she declined, saying she wouldn’t recall her product until there was evidence something was wrong with it.
She said she and her staff practice standard food safety protocols in addition to testing seed lots before using them and having third-party water tests conducted three times a week.
Scharf said she was verbally pressured by FDA officials and consequently issued a recall July 1 for her alfalfa and spicy sprouts that had expiration dates of June 22 through July 14. Scharf said at that time she didn’t understand why her produce was being implicated in illnesses reported months earlier.
FDA staff was on site at Evergreen for more than two weeks, watching workers and taking notes, Scharf said. But there weren’t as many workers to watch as there were before the public warning. The business had 14 employees when the FDA issued the warning. Within two weeks Scharf had cut her staff to four and said her sales were practically nonexistent.
Scharf has since sold three vehicles to raise money to pay bills. She said many of her customers, including Safeway, stopped placing orders when the FDA issued the warning. During a conference call with FDA officials on July 26, Scharf said she asked what the agency would do to get the word out about the negative test results. She said she they told her FDA does nothing in such cases. If, however, anyone calls the agency about the situation FDA will provide information on the negative results.
FDA officials have declined to comment other than to say that the test results were negative and that the investigation is ongoing. However, Scharf said she was told during the conference call that the investigation was over and that she could resume full operations.
In addition to supplying distributors with a variety of sprouts, Evergreen also has a contract with the U.S. military, which conducts quarterly inspections at the business. Scharf said none of those military inspections showed any problems. She said Evergreen has not received any orders from Spokane Produce, which is the distributor for the military contract, since the FDA issued the warning in June.