A small food company in the northernmost reaches of Idaho is reeling in the wake of a national salmonella outbreak that federal and state health investigators suspect may have come from contaminated alfalfa sprouts.
About 20 people, including nine in Eastern Washington, have been sickened by salmonella. Other cases have been reported in Idaho, Montana and North Dakota.
Idaho officials initially concluded that at least six of them reported eating alfalfa sprouts from Evergreen Produce, based about 10 miles outside of Moyie Springs, east of Bonners Ferry. Those findings prompted the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to issue a warning Monday and encourage the disposal of alfalfa sprouts and spicy sprouts sold by Evergreen.
Of the 20 reported cases of the salmonella strain, two involved hospitalization.
So far the poisoning investigation has not led to product recalls.
Nadine Scharf, owner of Evergreen Produce, said Monday afternoon that her company has temporarily quit selling alfalfa sprouts even as she awaits evidence that her sprouts are contaminated.
“So far they haven’t offered one bit of concrete evidence that we have a problem,” she said. “Our company’s name has been smeared and it makes me think, the way they are going about this, that maybe they just want to shut us down.
“We’re just hanging on by a thread.”
Evergreen Produce has been in business 23 years, employs about 14 people and moved into a new production facility about five years ago. It sells about 6,000 pounds of sprouts every week, including those from mung beans, clover, broccoli and alfalfa.
When first notified of salmonella fears, Scharf said food safety investigators went through her entire operation “with a fine-toothed comb.” Meanwhile, she quickly checked with more than a dozen area families – including some elderly people – that eat her company’s sprouts to share the news and ensure they were not sick.
“None of us have been sick,” Scharf said.
She expects to know more within a week when further results from laboratory testing are released.
Her company pays an independent laboratory for testing, and food procurement officials with the U.S. military test the company’s sprouts four times a year as a condition of food purchases.
Salmonella bacterial infections can cause severe illness, especially among the elderly, infants and those with weakened immune systems. Symptoms can include fever, diarrhea and abdominal cramps 12 to 72 hours after infection. The illness can last up to seven days.
Most people recover without treatment, but others may need medical care. It can be fatal if it spreads into the bloodstream. It is treated with antibiotics.
In its warning, the FDA stated that sprouts are a known source of food-borne illness.
There have been 30 reported outbreaks of food-borne illness due to eating sprouts within the past 15 years.