This past October, an 11 year old boy named Alex wrote to Sunny Creek Farm to get information about how the farm keeps their product safe from food borne illness. Ed Mills wrote back to him, explaining what it is that Sunny Creek Farm does different to make it one of the safest sprout farms in the country. Here is their story:
I'm Alex. I am 11 years old. We spoke on the phone last Thursday. I live in Durham and my and my friends and I are doing a project for our FIRST Lego League team about sprout contamination. My job is to find expert resources and I found your company during a web search so I was hoping we could get some detailed information on sprouts.
My questions are:
If people are doing lots of stuff to prevent outbreaks why are they still happening?
What does your company do to keep your sprouts safe?
Are new treatments being developed to prevent and detect contamination of sprouts?
How safe do you think the sprouts that are on the market now?
How effective and accurate are the treatments that are being used right now?
Do you eat the sprouts that are on the market?
Thank you so much for your time and response!
Ed Mills Replied:
My name is Ed Mills. I'm 62 years old. Lee and I together own Sunny Creek Farm and he has asked me to respond to your questions.
First of all, I am very impressed with your questions. Being only 11 years old you are very smart indeed. Here's the answers to your questions.
I and my family have been eating sprouts for 35 years and no one in my family has ever had food poisoning of any kind. In fact, in my 31 years growing sprouts for a living no one has ever complained about getting sick from eating our sprouts. Sunny Creek Farm has never been implicated in a food borne illness outbreak by the Food and Drug Administration. Here's why. We have created a series of steps or hurdles in our growing process that prevent harmful bacteria from contaminating the sprouts and therefore the people who eat them. These steps include: 1. Purchasing seeds from companies that lab test them for E Coli 0157 and Salmonella bacteria. These harmful bacteria typically come in from the fields on the seeds as a result of animals going to the bathroom on them before they are harvested. 2. The company that we purchase the vast majority of our seeds from even sanitizes the seeds before we receive them. 3.Then the day we plant them we sanitize the seeds again as the Food and Drug Administration suggests. The FDA is the government agency that oversees food safety in America. They inspect our facility a couple of times a year. 4. Midway through the sprouts' growth cycle we take a sample of the run off water and lab test it for Salmonella and E Coli 0157. We test water from each and every growing drum individually. These lab tests are very accurate. This year we will have spent $140,000 on lab testing. Before the crop is sent out to the stores we receive the results of our testing and if safe they go out for sale. 5. We also as a final step in the harvesting process rinse the sprouts in 1.7 parts per million ozonated water. Our lab study has shown this diminishes total bacteria counts by 43 times or a 1.9 log reduction of total bacteria load. No other company in America is performing this last step at this time. I love this step as it occurs just before packaging and has also increased life of the sprouts. They're very happy. 6. We follow the FDA's guidelines for safely growing sprouts. I have attached a letter Lee has written which describes these steps in more detail.
Why are there still outbreaks that occur? There wouldn't be any at all if all growers do what I described above. But unfortunately not all sprout farmers do. In fact, just following the FDA's guidelines would prevent nearly all of them. But not all sprout farmers follow these guidelines. Rest assured, if sprouts are being sold at a grocery chain they are following these guidelines.
The horrible outbreak that happened in Germany and then one in France shortly after could have been avoided. European sprout farmers and the European food safety authorities are ten years behind the United States in understanding the inherent problems associated with growing seeds in a warm moist environment which is also perfect for growing bacteria, both good and bad bacteria. It has been a very painful lesson for Europeans as people died.
As far a new ways to prevent these outbreaks. I've already mentioned our use of ozone technology. We plan to grow our sprouts in ozonated water in the future. There are also new and quicker tests that are being developed to detect bad bacteria after they have been harvested and before they are sent out for sale. I predict this will happen in the next 12 months.
Attached is the best argument for eating sprouts, particularly broccoli sprouts. Please have your parents read this with you as it might be difficult for you to understand. This ground breaking science inspires us to grow sprouts safely so we can do our part to help prevent people from getting sick from many other diseases besides food poisoning.
I hope this helps. If you have any more questions please let me know.
CEO/Sunny Creek Farm