On January 3, 2011, the Oregon Health Authority issued a News Release warning consumers of a health risk and recall related to clover sprouts produced by Sprouters Northwest, Inc. of Kent, Washington. The clover sprouts were sold in several states, including Oregon, Washington, and neighboring Canada. The sprouts were identified as the source of a salmonellosis outbreak, and all Sprouters Northwest-produce clover sprout products were included in the recall. 

As of the date of the News Release, at least six people had been sickened; two in Oregon and four in Washington. No hospitalization or deaths had been reported.

The recalled sprouts were sold at retail stores in 4-ounce and 5-ounce plastic containers; larger 1-pound bags and 2-pound trays were sold to grocery stores and wholesale suppliers, which in turn supplied sprouts to restaurants and other outlets. The clover varieties included Clover, Clover & Onion, Spicy Sprouts and Deli Sprouts. All packages carry the Sprouters Northwest brand name.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) conducted an on-site inspection of the Sprouters Northwest facility from January 3, 2011 through January 21, 2011. The agency subsequently issued an FDA Form 483, containing its observations from the investigation. The FDA Form 483 observations, rife with health and sanitation violations, included the following:

• Failure to take necessary precautions to protect against contamination of food and food contact surfaces with microorganisms and foreign substances. Listeria monocytogenes was found on the surface of a stainless steel table in the packing room, according to the report. The raw sprouts were stored in unlined plastic crates so the sprouts at the bottom were in contact with pallets and other totes, which previously had been in contact with the floor.

• Failure to clean food-contact surfaces as frequently as necessary to protect against contamination of food. Food debris and residue was found in the hard-to-clean areas in and around the conveyor belt and sprouts that passed along and got briefly stuck in these areas could fall back into the rinse tank. Inspectors said it appeared that equipment and fixtures in the seed disinfection room were not cleaned between use.

• Failure to clean non-food-contact surfaces of equipment as frequently as necessary to protect against contamination. Listeria seeligeri was detected on the surface of a brown mass of old, thick food grime on a cross-support place at the top of the rinse incline belt, the report stated.

• Effective measures are not being taken to protect against contamination of food on the premises by pests. Inspectors said gaps at the bottom of a door and along the roof line could allow pests access to the facility. They said they found rodent excreta pellets in the warehouse and noted that the processing room was accessible from the warehouse.

• Failure to properly store equipment, remove litter and waste, and cut weeds or grass that may constitute an attractant, breeding place or harborage area for pests, within the immediate vicinity of the plant, building, or structures.

• Failure to maintain buildings, fixtures, or other physical structures in a sanitary condition. Specifically, there was water build-up along the walls and the floor. Moisture in the walls caused dry rot of door molding at the base of the wall in the sprout growing area, according to health inspectors.

• Failure to maintain buildings and physical facilities in repair sufficient to prevent food from becoming adulterated. Specifically, inspectors said that an abrupt stream of water followed by intermittent drips was observed falling from the ceiling in the warehouse. The water fell onto a sheet of cardboard that covered a pallet of plastic packaging material used to package the mung bean sprouts.

• Failure to hold raw materials in bulk or suitable containers so as to protect against contamination.

• Four to five bags partially filled with seed were stored open or not tightly wrapped inside the warehouse, the inspectors reported.

In short, Sprouters Northwest had a litany of health and sanitation violations reported by the FDA that caused this outbreak.

Several more outbreaks linked to contaminated sprouts are identified in the chart below, which is based on information gathered from the CDC and the Oregon Department of Health:

Year Type Pathogen Cases

1990 Alfalfa S. Anatum 15

1995 Alfalfa S. Stanley 128

1995 Alfalfa S. Newport 133

1995 Alfalfa S. Newport 69

1996 Alfalfa S. Stanley 30

1996 Alfalfa S. Montevideo 650

1997 Alfalfa S. Infantis 109

1997 Alfalfa E. coli O157:H7 108

1997 Alfalfa S. Senftenberg 60

1997 Alfalfa S. Meleagridis 78

1998 Alfalfa S. Havana 40

1998 Alfalfa E. coli O157:NM 8

1999 Alfalfa S. Mbandaka 83

1999 Alfalfa S. Typhimurium 119

1999 Alfalfa S. Muenchen 61

1999 Alfalfa S. paratyphi B 51

1999 Alfalfa Salmonella spp. 34

1999 Alfalfa S. Muenchen 38

1999 Clover S. Saintpaul 36

2000 Mung S. Enteritidis 75

2000 Mung S. Enteritidis 12

2001 Alfalfa S. Kottbus 32

2001 Alfalfa Salmonella spp. 22

2001 Mung S. Enteritidis 84

2002 Alfalfa E. coli O157:H7 7

2003 Alfalfa S. Saintpaul 9

2003 Alfalfa S. Chester 26

2003 Alfalfa E. coli O157:H7 7

2003 Alfalfa S. Saintpaul 16

2003 Alfalfa E. coli O157:NM 13

2004 Alfalfa Salmonella spp. 12

2005 Alfalfa E. coli O157:H7 1

2005 Mung Salmonella spp. 648

2006 Bean S. Braenderup 4

2008 Alfalfa S. Typhimurium 13

2009 Alfalfa S. Saintpaul 6

2009 Alfalfa S. Saintpaul 235

2010 Alfalfa S. Newport 43

2010 Alfalfa S. I4,[5],12:i:- 112

2011 Clover S. Newport 6