Three produce growers issued four product recalls from April 19 to April 23 related to random tests by the federal government that showed possible salmonella contamination.
The growers all reported issuing the recalls as soon as they were notified by the Food and Drug Administration that there was possible contamination. However, the growers also said that the notification came after the produce had likely been consumed and in some cases after its shelf life had expired.
Produce recalls from April 19 to April 23:
- April 19: Jonathan’s Sprouts, Rochester, Mass., non-organic alfalfa sprouts;
- April 20: Satur Farms, Cutchogue, N.Y., cilantro;
- April 22: L&M Companies Inc. Raleigh, N.C., cucumbers; and
- April 23: Jonathan’s Sprouts, all organic and non-organic alfalfa sprouts.
Company owners at Jonathan’s Sprouts and Satur Farms said that they were not notified by any government agency when random samples of their produce were collected. Both companies’ produce was tested as part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Microbiological Data Program, which is supposed to automatically notify the FDA when its tests show positive results.
“Our distributor called as a courtesy to let me know that someone had been in collecting samples for some kind of testing,” said Paulette Satur, who owns and operates Satur Farms with her husband. “They took the samples on April 11 and our distributor called us April 15.
“We didn’t hear anything from the government until they showed up on our doorstep April 20.”
Bob Sanderson, owner of Jonathan’s Sprouts, said he was also notified by a customer about the testing.
“The samples were taken at a supermarket distributor’s warehouse. They called to let us know,” Sanderson said.
Both Satur and Sanderson said they tried to find out who to contact regarding the initial tests and follow up confirmation testing. Neither was able to get a specific answer.
Officials at the FDA were considering questions from The Packer regarding the testing and notification process, but as of April 27, the information was not available.
An FDA spokesman was quoted in The Packer’s April 25 print edition regarding a similar situation with a recall of jalapeño peppers issued March 28 by Thomas Produce, Boca Raton, Fla. That recall came after a Feb. 16 random test, and the FDA spokesman said the lag time was “an anomaly.”
As of April 26, Sanderson only had verbal information, nothing in writing, from government officials. Satur said she called “numerous people” at state and federal levels and still didn’t have the name of a contact person, even after officials went to her growing fields in Florida to conduct further tests on April 21.
Satur and Sanderson have both tested the seed lots used to grow their cilantro and sprouts, respectively. Those tests all came back clean. No illnesses have been reported related to the recalled sprouts and cilantro, but Sanderson had a scare April 25 when a rumor started circulating.
“Six hours ago I thought we had a positive and people were sick,” he said April 25. “Now that doesn’t seem to be the case but the damage has been done.”
Sanderson said he understands the FDA has a complicated and important job when it comes to food safety, but he said he finds the lack of communication with growers to be aggravating at best and potential business killer at worst.
“We’ve been in business 35 years and never had a positive test,” Sanderson said “We test everything before it leaves the farm, using the FDA recommended tests.
“When something like this happens and consumers get worried, it’s like a mistake in the newspaper. The mistake was on the front page but the correction is buried inside.”
Sanderson said as a precaution he expanded his recall April 23 to include all of the Jonathan’s products that include alfalfa sprouts. His alfalfa production line is on hold until further notice.
In the case of the L&M cucumber recall, company officials said FDA inspectors discovered salmonella April 13 in a random cucumber sample from a cooler at Plant City, Fla.-based Four Seasons Produce of Central Florida Inc. The FDA notified L&M about the positive salmonella test late the afternoon of April 21, according to Lee Anne Oxford, L&M’s director of marketing.
The cucumbers, harvested March 29 from an L&M grower near Immokalee, Fla., had likely exceeded their 10-14 day normal shelf life, Oxford said. She said L&M finished its cucumber production harvesting at that farm on April 7.
Eastern Editor Doug Ohlemeier contributed to this article.