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. jthomas2@dhs.ca.gov

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.

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