Industry Practices and Compliance with US Food and Drug Administration Guidelines Among California Sprout Firms

Industry practices and compliance with U.S. Food and Drug Administration guidelines among California sprout firms.
J Food Prot. 2003 Jul;66(7):1253-9.
Thomas JL, Palumbo MS, Farrar JA, Farver TB, Cliver DO.
California Department of Health Services, Food and Drug Branch, 601 North 7th Street, Sacramento, California 94234, USA.

Since 1995, raw vegetable sprouts have been implicated as the vehicle of infection in 15 foodborne outbreaks involving Salmonella and 2 foodborne outbreaks involving Escherichia coli O157:H7. To reduce the numbers of sprout-related outbreaks, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) published Guidance for Industry: Reducing Microbial Food Safety Hazards for Sprouting Seeds in 1999. Between October 2000 and April 2001, 61.5% (16 of 26) of the known commercial sprout firms in California were enrolled in a survey to evaluate the industry practices of California sprouting operations and to determine compliance with FDA guidelines. A standardized questionnaire was used to collect data on firm demographics and seed disinfection practices. Additionally, free chlorine levels in seed disinfection solutions were measured, and 48-h spent irrigation water samples were collected from each firm. The irrigation water was screened for Salmonella and E. coli O157:H7 with FDA-recommended test kits. Free chlorine levels in the treatment solutions ranged from 50 to 35,000 mg/liter (ppm), with a median of 14,000 mg/liter (ppm). Free chlorine levels were higher for firms producing alfalfa sprouts than for those producing only mung bean or soybean sprouts (P=0.03). Levels of free chlorine tended to be higher for firms using a calcium hypochlorite treatment solution than for firms using a sodium hypochlorite treatment solution (P=0.067). All 32 irrigation water samples screened for Salmonella tested negative. Of the irrigation water samples tested for E. coil O157:H7, 75% (24 of 32) tested negative, and 25% (8 of 32) tested presumptive positive. The eight presumptive positive samples were found to be negative after further testing. These results indicate that producers of alfalfa sprouts are generally achieving the FDA-recommended calcium hypochlorite level of 20,000 mg/liter (ppm), whereas mung bean sprout producers are not.