SMOKINCHOICES (and other musings)

November 2, 2012

Sprouts, much to consider

ADAM CAIRNS DISPATCH PHOTOS Steve and Pat Sauer and son Ed run Sunsprout Farms. Kroger’s decision to stop selling sprouts has cost them 65 percent of their business.

S P R O U T     S A F E T Y

Kroger’s decision not to sell sprouts is hurting a Columbus grower; government and industry groups are working to curb health risks


Steve and Pat Sauer went into business three decades ago to grow alfalfa, mung bean, broccoli, clover and radish sprouts for their health benefits.

Now, the business’ health has been dealt a blow by Kroger’s decision this month to stop selling sprouts altogether, citing food-safety concerns.

“It’s just frustrating,” said Pat Sauer, co-owner of Sunsprout Farms of Central Ohio. The Columbus company takes great pains to make sure its sprouts are safe to eat, including testing for the most-common contaminants before distributing them to retailers.

  • In all its years selling sprouts, Sunsprout Farms has never had a safety recall, Pat Sauer said.

Despite their safety record, though, Kroger’s decision cost the Sauers and their son Ed, who’s also involved in the company, 65 percent of their business.

  • Sunsprout Farms had supplied sprouts to Kroger stores in Ohio and part of Michigan for 37 years. In 2010 when Wal-Mart stopped selling sprouts for the same reason, the Cincinnati sprout grower that supplied them went out of business, the Sauers said.
  • Other Columbus retailers, such as Whole Foods, Clintonville Community Market and Greener Grocer, continue to carry Sunsprout Farms sprouts.

The decision by the nation’s largest grocery chain was a reaction to problems in the sprout industry, not at individual sprout growers, said Jackie Siekmann, spokeswoman for Kroger’s Columbus Division.

“The entire food retailing industry has struggled with sprout safety,” Siekmann said. “Pathogens can reside inside the sprout seed, creating a unique food-safety challenge.”      (not if they are organic seeds)

The sprout seed usually is the source of the bacteria that  sickens people, according to  , a consortium that includes the Food and Drug Administration, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Department of Agriculture.

“There are a number of approved techniques to kill harmful bacteria that may be present on seeds. But no treatment is guaranteed to eliminate all harmful bacteria,” the agencies said at their website.  (so, is it present “on” the seeds or “in” the seeds?)

In addition, sprouts are raised in warm, humid conditions — perfect for growing bacteria.  (which is correct for raising “sprouts”)

  • Since 1996, at least 30 illness outbreaks have been traced to sprouts, mostly from salmonella or E. coli contamination, according to  .

A quick survey of the FDA’s recall database showed 14 recall notices from sprout growers since the beginning of 2010. Few of these recalls are tied to illnesses, said Bob Sanderson, president of the International Sprout Growers Association and a sprout producer in Rochester,  Mass.

But Siekmann said that sprouts “have been shown to be a very high-risk food. We are disappointed that the industry has not yet been able to demonstrate consistently safe sprout production.”

The Sauers believe they do have a good safety record. They take several steps to ensure their product’s safety, starting with buying seed from a reputable source.     (and it shows)   

Sprouts grow in hydroponic drums in a five-day process at Sunsprout Farms. The Sauers still sell sprouts to Whole Foods, Clintonville Community Market and Greener Grocer.

“We spend a little more than the usual for seed because we get it from a guy who is the most reliable,” Steve Sauer said.

The Sauers and their workers wash their seed in a strong chlorine solution — so strong they have to wear masks to protect against caustic fumes. Then they thoroughly rinse the seed with water.

The seed is soaked for up to five hours, and then loaded into drums or bins. During the growing cycle, the Sauers draw test samples from water used to irrigate the seed, Steve Sauer said.

  • “That’s what goes to Silliker Labs for salmonella and E. coli testing,” he said. The sprouts are washed in chlorinated water to remove their hulls, spun dry and packed into plastic cartons.

Kroger said it might reconsider its decision when it is satisfied that sprout farmers can guarantee the safety of their products.

“We value our customers’ safety above all else, and this was a step we believe we needed to take to ensure the health and safety of our customers,” Siekmann said.

Pat Sauer hopes her products are back in Kroger stores soon. “Kroger has been a wonderful and loyal customer that really does support local farmers,” she said.

  • Siekmann said it is unfortunate that sprout suppliers with good records, such as Sunsprout Farms, suffer because of problems with some companies in their industry.   “They deserve credit for running a safe farm. But the industry as a whole needs to step up its game,” Siekmann said.

Efforts to do that are ongoing. Since 1999, the FDA has updated processing guidelines for sprout growers every few years.

The FDA worked with the Illinois Institute of Technology’s Institute for Food Safety and Health to create the Sprouts Safety Alliance to help producers identify and use best practices to safely produce sprouts.

Sanderson, the sprout growers association president, would like to see future FDA regulations include several alternative treatments that have shown promising safety results.

The association has worked for several years with the Institute for Food Safety and Health’s Sprout Safety Task Force, which includes government, academia and industry, to launch enhanced protocols to grow, handle, distribute and sell safe sprouts.

Meanwhile, the Sauers are trying to figure out how to build back their business. “That’s tough. It’s a very niche-type of a business,” Steve Sauer said.

In the past, Sunsprout Farms has tried growing products such as wheat grass and pea shoots. But the farm would need to win substantial market shares in these specialty items to rival the profitability of sprouts, he said.


(Jan’s comment: 

Want to share something else with you regarding sprouts.  Those knowledgeable about sprouts will tell you how really beneficial they are.  There may not be too many other foods with the capacity to help restore and maintain robust health as easily.    Aside from the fact that they are so darned enjoyable and delicious.  There are problems however.

Buying them in the stores can be quite costly as opposed to growing them at home.   Dr Ann Wigmore kind of got people turned on to sprouting and of course,the  wheat grass craze starts with her.  The concept that these tiny sprouts are not yet the plants they are going  to be, yet manifest the full spectrum of the powerhouse full of nutrient in these delicate sprouts is magical.  This is one of the reasons they are so powerful.   Growing them at home and cutting what you want or need  in the moment (for salads, sandwiches or simply juicing) is the immediate transfer of all the vital energy goes  immediately into our systems and we gain that infusion instantly.   

But on the other hand,  even if the growers are absolutely perfect in their management of the process, as we scan the fresh produce section trying to choose our sprouts, we have no way of knowing anything about the time elapsed since their cutting (unless of course if they look a little soft or wilted.)  Dr Ann explains that food begins to loose nutritive value within minutes of cutting.  Dramatic.  Within hours much is lost and after a few days, well. . y

. . so I want to let you watch our friend Matt Monarch from Raw Food World interviewing the builder of the Easy-Green “sprouter.    I would so love to have one of those. . . .   but where to put it. . .           enjoy

Interview with EasyGreen Sprouter Inventor – YouTube 24, 2012 – 25 min – Uploaded by TheRawFoodWorld We have an exclusive interview with Sol Azulay the inventor of the

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