An E. coli outbreak linked to a North Idaho sprouts producer may not be over yet.
Federal health officials say Evergreen Fresh Sprouts LLC of Moyie Springs, Idaho, produced and distributed more raw clover sprouts from the same seed lot associated with the May outbreak that sickened at least 18 people in five states.
As sprouts from this seed lot may still be in the marketplace, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention again are warning consumers not to eat clover sprouts from Evergreen. Avoid buying the company’s clover sprouts in stores and ask restaurants if their sprouts come from the producer, the agencies advised.
Last Thursday, the FDA met with Evergreen’s owner to advise the firm of its concerns that the seed lot linked to the outbreak of E. coli O121 may be contaminated and to encourage Evergreen to discontinue using those seeds to grow clover. Evergreen told the FDA it planned to discontinue using the seed lot, the agency said.
David Scharf, owner of Evergreen, did not return a call for comment Monday.
Seeds are considered the most likely source of contamination in most sprout-associated outbreaks, according to the FDA. Microbial contamination tends to be clustered and localized, and when contamination occurs sporadically and at low levels, a negative E. coli test result is not a guarantee of the absence of disease-causing germs in the seed lot, the agency said.
“If there is reason to believe that a specific seed lot has been associated with foodborne illness, there is reason to believe that other parts of that lot may be contaminated,” the FDA said. “It is important to note that the environmental conditions that promote sprout growth will also promote the growth of disease-causing germs.”
The outbreak sickened 11 people in Washington, three in Idaho and others in Montana, Utah and Michigan, health officials said. Twelve people reported eating raw clover sprouts in the week before becoming ill, and eight were hospitalized.
E. coli is a bacterial infection that causes diarrhea, often bloody, as well as severe abdominal cramps, vomiting and a low-grade fever. Most people recover in five to seven days, but E. coli can be severe and life-threatening, particularly for very young children and the elderly.