E.coli in sprouted seeds 29th June 2011
As you may be aware, recently there have been two outbreaks of food-poisoning associated with sprouted seeds in France and Germany.
In the German case it has not been established which sprouts were involved (and may never be) but the isolation of the outbreak indicates that local factors were responsible.
In the French case the latest information is that fenugreek, rocket or mustard sprouts may be responsible, none of which we produce at Aconbury. The sprouts were produced on a domestic scale and again the isolation of the outbreak indicates that local factors were responsible.
Unfortunately the Food Standards Agency has reacted to these incidents by issuing consumer guidance that all sprouted seeds should be cooked. This takes no account of the following considerations:
1. What is a sprouted seed, e.g. does it include salad cress, pea shoots, micro-herbs?
2. What about products that cannot reasonably be cooked, e.g. alfalfa sprouts?
3. Why is no distinction made between sprouts that are produced commercially by responsible businesses who take a full range of precautions including a lot of expensive testing to make sure their products are safe, and sprouts produced by consumers or small uncontrolled enterprises?
4. In issuing this unjustified advice have they considered the damage they are doing to not only responsible sprout producers but also seed suppliers, retailers etc.?
5. Contrary to the impression being given, sprouts are an extremely healthy and nutritious food which can be produced safely. The FSA should be encouraging consumers to use them, in their raw state, provided that sufficient precautions are taken.
We understand that the overriding priority of the FSA is to ensure public safety but we sincerely believe, along with everyone else in our industry, that on this occasion they have grossly over-reacted and are causing unnecessary damage to legitimate business and consumer confidence.
We would like to repeat the information we circulated recently:
Harmful organisms found in bean sprouts in most cases have been shown to
have come from the seed. This is why we have every batch of seed we buy tested by an outside laboratory before we release it to production. We also have a programme of regular testing of our finished products and staff, equipment, water and production environment to be sure there is no contamination during production.
Our tests already include generic E. coli as well as the more dangerous strain O157:H7. As soon as the test method for the strain involved in the current outbreak is established we will add it to our test suite if necessary, though as of today the precise source of the contamination has not been established. We are also increasing the frequency of our tests.
In the meantime there is no reason to believe that there is any increased risk from the consumption of our sprouts in the raw state, though there is always the added safeguard available of cooking them first.
We are working closely with our local Environmental Health Service and laboratory to make sure our products continue to be safe and will update you with more information as soon as it becomes available.
Aconbury Sprouts Ltd