(UPDATED COVERAGE, Jan. 5) For the second time in a week, a grower-shipper is voluntarily recalling sprouts.

Sprouters Northwest of Kent, Wash., recalled clover sprouts and mixes Jan. 1 after Washington and Oregon health officials linked a salmonella outbreak to the products.

Of seven illnesses confirmed in the Pacific Northwest, six reported eating clover sprouts, said William Keene, epidemiologist at the Oregon Public Health Division.

A larger outbreak centered in the Midwest that sickened 94 was linked by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to Tiny Greens alfalfa sprouts eaten at Jimmy John’s Gourmet Sandwiches outlets. Urbana, Ill.-based Tiny Greens Organic Farm issued its recall Dec. 29.

In the Northwest, two victims — one a 3-year-old boy — reported eating the sprouts at a Jimmy John’s restaurant in Bend, Ore. Others bought the food at grocery stores.

Despite the Jimmy John’s connection, the salmonella type in the Northwest outbreak was different, and contamination was traced to clover sprouts rather than alfalfa sprouts. Both Sprouters Northwest and Tiny Greens said in news releases that the link to their products was not conclusive.

“Sprouters Northwest issued a recall without being asked,” Keene said. “Unfortunately for them they’ve been through this several times before.”

The Sprouters Northwest recall covers products with best-by dates of Jan. 16 and earlier that include clover sprouts; clover onion sprouts; deli sprouts; spicy sprouts; bags of clover; and Brocco sandwich sprouts. The company suspended production.

Keene compared the risk level for sprout consumption to that of raw milk or unpasteurized cider.

“I tell my family and friends not to eat them,” he said. “They’re unusually high-risk foods, not at all comparable to lettuce, tomatoes or cantaloupe. When you factor in consumption levels, they’re head and shoulders above every other vegetable for their track record of producing illness.

“Sprouts are insidious little guys. They’re sticky and at a salad bar after an hour or two you’ll see they’ve migrated everywhere, floating to the cottage cheese or stuck to tongs. There are people who say no to sprouts but get them anyway. There is cross-contamination in salad bars and kitchens.”Sprouters Northwest of Kent, Wash., recalled clover sprouts and mixes Jan. 3 after Washington and Oregon health officials linked a salmonella outbreak to the products.

Of seven illnesses confirmed in the Pacific Northwest, six reported eating clover sprouts, said William Keene, epidemiologist at the Oregon Public Health Division.

A larger outbreak centered in the Midwest that sickened 94 was linked by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to Tiny Greens alfalfa sprouts eaten at Jimmy John’s Gourmet Sandwiches outlets. Urbana, Ill.-based Tiny Greens Organic Farm issued its recall Dec. 29.

In the Northwest, two victims — one a 3-year-old boy — reported eating the sprouts at a Jimmy John’s restaurant in Bend, Ore. Others bought the food at grocery stores.

Despite the Jimmy John’s connection, the salmonella type in the Northwest outbreak was different, and contamination was traced to clover sprouts rather than alfalfa sprouts. Both Sprouters Northwest and Tiny Greens said the link to their products was not conclusive.

“We haven’t been definitely matched yet, it’s still just epidata,” Sprouters Northwest owner Bill Jones said. “One of the people with salmonella has never eaten sprouts, but there’s enough percent to point toward us and that’s how the game works.”

“Sprouters Northwest issued a recall without being asked,” Keene said. “Unfortunately for them they’ve been through this several times before.”

Jones said occasional recalls go with the territory for a company that’s been in business 30 years.

“We were involved in a similar small recall two years ago,” he said. “It seems to go back to the seed lot. We’re going by the guidelines and testing by DNA. Each shipment before it goes out gets negative test results. We’re doing our best but evidently it wasn’t good enough.”

The Sprouters Northwest recall covers products with best-by dates of Jan. 16 and earlier that include clover sprouts, clover onion sprouts, deli sprouts, spicy sprouts, bags of clover and Brocco sandwich sprouts. The company suspended production.

The products were distributed in Washington, Oregon and Idaho.

The deli sprouts also went to three Canadian provinces: British Columbia, Alberta and Saskatchewan. No illnesses were reported there, but Canadian health officials and Wal-Mart Canada warned consumers not to eat deli sprouts sold through Jan. 3 at Wal-Mart Supercentres in the region. Wal-Mart Canada voluntarily recalled the product, according to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency issued a health hazard alert.

Keene compared the risk level for sprout consumption to that of raw milk or unpasteurized cider.

“I tell my family and friends not to eat them,” he said. “They’re unusually high-risk foods, not at all comparable to lettuce, tomatoes or cantaloupe. When you factor in consumption levels, they’re head and shoulders above every other vegetable for their track record of producing illness.

“Sprouts are insidious little guys. They’re sticky and at a salad bar after an hour or two you’ll see they’ve migrated everywhere, floating to the cottage cheese or stuck to tongs. There are people who say no to sprouts but get them anyway. There is cross-contamination in salad bars and kitchens.”

But Jones said demand for sprouts will continue.

“About 4% of the population eats sprouts and it’s a pretty hardcore group,” he said. “I think they will come back.”

Jones said his company acted quickly on news of the outbreak.

“We knew we had a potential problem very early in the game,” he said. “We got news on New Year’s Eve that four in Washington and two in Oregon had this salmonella type. On Jan. 2 we stopped all shipments at the warehouse level and went right into a market withdrawal before the FDA even knew what was going on.

“Our attorneys thought we were in the right to call it a market withdrawal,” Jones said. “It did end up a recall. They didn’t have any links to our product other than statistical data, but they’re still calling it a recall.”

UPDATED: Two salmonella outbreaks, two sprout recalls

Courtesy Canadian Food Inspection Agency