(Dec. 16) In response to an alfalfa sprout recall in late November, the Seattle-based International Sprout Growers Association has come to the defense of one of its growers.

Six cases of illness caused by salmonella, possibly caused by consuming contaminated sprouts, were reported in Oregon during the month. In addition to Oregon, sprout recalls were issued in Alaska and Washington, according to the Hillsboro Argus, an Oregon newspaper.

The sprouts, sold by Harmony Farms, Auburn, Wash., also were distributed in Idaho.

This was the sixth incident of sprout-related illness in Oregon since 1996, according to the Argus.
Harmony Farms agreed to recall its sprouts from retail and foodservice shelves, though the association said no evidence links the company to the contamination. The family-owned grower also took heat for other salmonella-related illnesses in March.

The recall has forced the 25-year-old company out of business, said Greg Lynn, Harmony Farms’ president.

Lynn said inspections of his company’s facility, sprouts and raw ingredients yielded no signs of salmonella contamination. He said the Food and Drug Administration also found Harmony Farms to be in compliance with 1999 food safety requirements.

In addition, he said no unopened product that the company distributed tested positive for the bacteria. Therefore, he said, the sprouts could have contacted salmonella at another location.

“We distribute in Alaska, Washington, Oregon and Idaho, yet the only illnesses that were of concern were apparently limited to a very well defined area (in Oregon),” he said.

Glenn Wakeling, association president, said he agreed that FDA assumptions that salmonella originated at Harmony Farms’ facility might be premature.

“Public safety has to come first, of course, but you want to make sure that a recall isn’t being pulled before there’s enough to be sure that there’s something going on there,” Wakeling said.