Washington Department of Health links E. coli outbreak to north Idaho company

Washington Department of Health links E. coli outbreak to north Idaho company

SPOKANE, Wash. - The Washington Department of Health has issued a consumer warning for raw clover sprouts from an Idaho producer because of an E. coli outbreak.

The first of ten cases was reported on May 1. Five cases in Spokane County, three in north Idaho and two in King County.

"These are all individuals who ate raw clover sprouts on sandwiches," Dorothy MaCeachern, epidemiologist with the Department of Health said.

Health officials have linked the outbreak to Evergreen Fresh Sprouts in Moyie Springs, Idaho.

Sprouts were eaten at Jimmy John's Gourmet Sandwiches locations in King and Spokane counties, two Pita Pit locations in Spokane County, and a Daanen's Deli and Jimmy John's in Kootenai County.

"Nine out of 10 individuals were sure they had sprouts, the other person was a little unsure, maybe they did maybe they didn't," MaCeachern said.

E. coli is a reportable disease, so health facilities must alert the Department of Health when they see a case.

"We interview the individuals, asking a wide variety of questions that have to do with what they've been doing during the incubation period for that particular bacteria," MaCeachern said.

Restaurants that use the product have pulled it from their menu. At this time, Evergreen Fresh Sprouts is not issuing a voluntary recall until there's more evidence the outbreak originated at their facility.

"I have a whole stack of lab results on the dates that they are in question stating my product is fine," Owner David Scharf said.

According to Scharf they test their product for salmonella and E. coli three times before it ships out: first when it's a sprouting seed, again 72-hours later and then finally, the finished product.

"Before you point the finger at me, have some proof," Sharf said. "Because I have proof that my sprouts are great."

Scharf said that he ships out two tons of product every two days, adding that if his produce did have E. coli, a lot more than 10 people would be affected.

"I don't understand how you can draw conclusions from a survey that my product is bad," Scharf said.

MaCeachern said that many E. coli outbreaks are usually linked with fresh produce, but this was an unusual case because of how many people were affected, by something that's not eaten often.

"We had all these people with this illness, they all ate sprouts, the sprouts came from the same producer," MaCeachern said.

In 2011, Evergreen Fresh Sprouts, which was owned by his mother Nadine at the time, was blamed for two dozen salmonella illnesses. The company issued a voluntary recall, but the Federal Drug Administration never found evidence to prove they were at fault.

Scharf said that he would issue a voluntary recall for the clover sprouts if they can prove they traced the E. coli to his product.