This is Whole Foods response:
Response re. Sprout Safety
# 39 of 41: by jon lebkowsky [jonl] on Aug 17, 1999 at 12:05 pm CDT
This response was prepared by Margaret Wittenberg, WFM's
Vice President of Governmental and Public Affairs. (She also
spoke to Lori Tooker by phone earlier today).
On July 9, 1999 the FDA issued a health advisory
http://vm.cfsan.fda.gov/~lrd/hhssprts.html "advising all persons
to be aware of the risks associated with eating raw sprouts (e.g.
alfalfa, clover, radish). Outbreaks have included persons of both
genders and all age categories. Those persons who wish to
reduce the risk of foodborne illness from sprouts are advised not
to eat raw sprouts.
"This advisory is updated from a previous health advisory
issued August 31, 1998, and is based on additional information
from clover and alfalfa sprout-associated salmonellosis
outbreaks from January through May 1999. Two outbreaks
were associated with clover sprouts: one occurred in California
in May and involved approximately 30 cases; a second outbreak
in Colorado from March through May involved approximately
70 cases. In addition, form January through March an outbreak
of salmonellosis affecting approximately 85 people occurred in
Oregon, Washington, and California and was associated with
the consumption of alfalfa sprouts.
"The sprout industry has been working in cooperation with
government, academia, and other industry segments to enhance
the safety of its product. These efforts have focused primarily
on seed treatment strategies, good manufacturing practices, and
All in all, there have been 12 outbreaks of salmonella and 3
outbreaks of E.coli 0157:H7 in alfalfa, clover, and radish
sprouts since 1996. Most of the sources of these pathogens have
been isolated on the seeds. As a retailer, it is our responsibility
to be aware of these situations and respond to them in a manner
that can minimize any food safety concerns for our customers
that arise. We researched the situation thoroughly before taking
action, consulting the International Sprout Growers Association,
the FDA, independent certifiers, food safety companies, as well
as individual growers.
The International Sprout Growers Association (ISGA) is the
professional association of sprout growers and companies that
supply products and services to the sprout industry. They are
active in educating and informing members about important
issues impacting the sprout industry, representing growers'
interests before government regulatory agencies, and supporting
scientific research that benefits the sprout industry.
Their recommendations to us, which are also listed on their
website www.isga-sprouts.org, detailed what we and our
customers should expect from our sprout suppliers:
1) visit the sprouter's facility to check on general sanitation
2) request the following from the sprout supplier:
a)a copy of the facility's current food processor's registration
b)a copy of state or federal inspection findings within the last
c)a statement that the supplier is following the recommended
seed disinfection practices using 20,000 parts per million
d)a copy of written standard operating procedures (SOPS)
e)a copy of written sanitation standard operating procedures
f)a copy of written pest control management procedures
g)proof of training in good manufacturing practices within the
The IGSA also recommends that stores and consumers keep
sprouts refrigerated at or below 45 degrees F. at all times;
observe use-by-dates; and wash sprouts prior to serving.
The IGSA has also established a seal of quality program that
allows sprouters to use a special seal on their products if their
company has been approved by one of the three current third
At this time, research to ensure the safety of sprouting seeds
continues. Researchers are seeking alternatives to the use of
chlorine, which, unfortunately, is the only known method of
disinfecting the seeds--something that the sprouting industry
agrees that needs to be done given the circumstances of
heightened sprout food safety problems and the possibility of a
tragic event as occurred with the Odwalla E.coli 0157:H7
Some possible alternatives include hot water with the addition of
hydrogen peroxide to kill pathogens and the use of ozone as a
sanitizer. However, there are not enough tests done yet to
ensure that they and other alternative treatments have the same
effectiveness of chlorine. The use of chlorine with organic
sprouts is currently not allowed, so at this time, with deep
regret, we will not be able to sell organic sprouts until we can
assure our customers that they will be able to match the food
safety measures as outlined in the IGSA's recommendations.
We will restock organic sprouts as soon as we have this
This is our response:
Response to Response re: Sprout Safety
# 40 of 41: by Gil Frishman [Gil] on Aug 17, 1999 at 5:08 pm CDT
It is clear that Whole Foods commitment to organics is only as a
The International Sprout Grower's Association which they cite
as the authority on sprout safety only represents about 20% of
the sprout growers in this country. The ISGA is blaming those
of us who do not bleach seed (i.e. certified organic growers) as
responsible for the outbreak problems while we have always
maintained that if you have good certified organic seed
contamination problems virtually disappear. Whole Foods
believes what the FDA tells them, that sprouts are a high risk
food and unbleached organic sprouts are the riskiest of all.
Bleach is not the answer--organic farming methods yielding
clean organic seed is a large part of the answer. But instead of
standing up for organic growers, they, like the FDA and the
ISGA have decided to blame us even though all outbreaks have
been traced to non-organic seed sprouted by non-organic
growers, NEVER to certified organic growers who of course
use certified organic seed! The president of the ISGA uses the
strong bleach soak, then dumps it into the stream in back of her
facility. Then she labels her sprouts "organically grown" when,
by the very use of bleach no organic agency would certify her.
She gets away with fraudulent labeling because it's not illegal in
her state--neither is it in ours and we've fought for years against
unscrupulous people exploiting the word "organic" and stores
willingness to sell those products as organic instead of insisting
on certification. We don't feel that the ISGA is trustworthy. I'm
not going to get into a bickering session with Whole Foods.
Please go to our website, http://www.sproutpeople.com if you
want the truth (as well as a source of high quality certified
organic sprouting seed and supplies). In parting, let us remind
you that even in the 1995-96 outbreak of salmonella (which was
guesstimated to sicken 20,000 people, though only 700 cases
were reported), illness blamed on sprouts only constituted 1/3 of
1% of the annual salmonella cases in the US and 1999 has seen
less than 200 cases! Let's not lose that perspective. Our full
length report and links to further information on this subject can
be found at:
They then added this post:
# 41 of 41: by jon lebkowsky [jonl] on Aug 17, 1999 at 7:36 pm CDT
Gil, Whole Foods' commitment to organics speaks for itself,
and so does our commitment to food safety. If we know of a
food safety risk, we'll definitely proceed with caution to protect
our customers from risk. To us, even a single 'statistically
irrelevant' illness or death would be too much.
It's unfortunate if this is a detriment to organic sprout growers.
I'm sure that you share our commitment to food safety, and we
just disagree about the weight of risk here. However I don't
think you enhance the credibility of your position with wild
accusations ( e.g. "Whole Foods endorses Dioxin" ).
We had planned on saying no more, but we couldn't help ourselves - here is our final contribution. We apologize in advance for the passion and outrage we suffer over this subject. It is our life and we are stressed well past our point of tolerance.
Jon and friends,
You are right - Whole Foods commitment to organics speaks for itself.
As for helping causes - you would do well to drop the patronizing tone.
Don't paint us as if we aren't concerned about people getting sick. Certified organic sprout growers are being blamed for a problem that can largely be traced to conventional seed. Certified organic seed producers and sprout growers are by the virtue of certification held to a higher standard. We have been using Good Manufacturing Practices for years and now all the conventional people are scrambling to catch up, yet you blame us for their problems. By dropping organic sprouts you are siding with the organic-bashers that say organic food is not as safe as conventional food. When your customers purchase HACCP certified, bleached sprouts they aren't one bit safer. Contamination has never been linked to certified organic growers but sprouts grown with the FDA recommended HACCP bleach have been linked to contamination. YOU ARE NO SAFER WITH BLEACHED SPROUTS, INFACT BY VIRTUE OF THE FACT THAT THEY ARE NON-ORGANIC, YOU ARE PLACING YOUR CUSTOMERS AT GREATER RISK! How can you do that? If Whole Foods has a policy of zero tolerance for risk and if you are SO concerned about the safety of your customers,then you can close your doors right now because there's no such thing as zero risk when you're talking about food
Do tell me - if WF is committed to organics - why don't you just stop carrying sprouts until such time as you are once again able to convince your lawyers that the risk of carrying certified organic sprouts is acceptable?
If you continue proclaiming that WF is committed to organics and environmental stewardship it would be much more credible for you to stand against bleaching the earth . If you are going to start buying HACCP certified sprouts, which at this time require seed sanitation in a 2% calcium hypochlorite solution which is so noxious you have to wear gloves and a mask and have training just to handle it, is it a "wild accusation" to say that Whole Foods endorses the use of dioxin? You can't have your cake and eat it too, Jon. Your actions have consequences and you can try to cover up by claiming concern for food safety but it's obvious that your lawyers have got you running scared. That's what you pay them for, isn't it?
Have you thought about carrying certified organic sprouts with the same label you put on your unpasturized juice? Would that please your lawyers? Have you been able to come up with no other alternative than to just blindly follow the FDA and ISGA's suggestions? Are you unaware of the fact that the FDA will be approving an alternative to bleach for HACCP plans that conforms to organic standards by the beginning of next year? You decide to ax us when a solution is so close at hand, because you really don't care.
I know you all think you mean well, but reality is that you are now a publicly traded corporation, not just a bunch of hip people in a cool little store, and that business reality alters your decision making process to the extent that you are balancing the fear of lawsuits against the organic movement. You now depend on lawyers to make your moral decisions--rarely a wise move. Natural food is really just a big pain in the butt for a corporation, isn't it? You need all those stockholders and financial institutions and lawyers on the payroll. Who has time to worry about organics? The story of Whole Foods is taking on prophetic overtones. You contradict your own Mission Statement by your actions (WFM Cares: http://www.wholefoods.com/company/cares/index.html). You should rewrite it and add the qualification, "If we perceive no liability..." Luckily for us the bulk of our customers are co-ops who think for themselves and definitely stand behind organics - and who not only continue to purchase and support our products but post our report (http://www.sproutpeople.com/safe.html), letters and petitions as well. These people are not wide eyed naifs--they grapple with the problems and the undermining of natural foods everyday. They are on the front line doing what they believe in while you hide behind an expensively advertised image, copping airs of corporate sophistication.
Losing our Whole Foods accounts is going to cut our sales, already down 30% this year, by another 20%. It isn't easy for us to speak up on this issue. We have sweated and scraped for over 6 years to make our sprout business what it is and losing ground is an exceptionally painful experience for us. We have a product that is so good, so beautiful and so right, and you treat it like garbage. We respect and even love our sprouts and we are proud of our little business and it hurts to think that the people at Whole Foods can't see the beauty, the elegance of design, the perfection - of our sprouts. People come up to our stand at our farmer's market and say "they are so beautiful" and "I can't live without these". And all you can manage is "It's unfortunate if this is a detriment to organic sprout growers". God, don't hurt yourself. We are in our 40s and have 2 small children, but we are not nearly as worried about losing our business as we are of leaving our children a devastated planet - poisoned even by those who claim commitment to environmental stewardship through sustainability.
You all can say what you will, and the few folks in this chat will likely side with you, but we will not be back - we have wasted enough of our time already. Unlike you, I'm not paid to do this kind of work. Good luck. We hope WF finds it's way -unless it is too late.
Campaign for Food Safety
Organic Basher Revealed - NY Times