At last, some resolution – The sprouts have been the culprit, after all, but 31 dead and more than 3,000 sickened, with 700 suffering acute kidney problems. Investigations had centered around a restaurant in Lubeck, Germany, where almost 18 of the dead victims were thought to have eaten. William Keene, an epidemiologist at Oregon Health is quoted in this NYTimes story expressing how astounded he was at how long it took the Germans to figure things out:
“This is basic outbreak investigation 101. This is on the high end of suspect vehicles. You always rule out raw milk, you always rule out ground beef, you always rule out sprouts. It just happens in the beginning steps.”
But Mark Bittman makes a really good point in that food handling practices should bear a larger burden of the blame, rather than the sprouts themselves. And in a more recent column, he calls into question being able to pin the blame on the sprouts when, in an ongoing investigation, “You can’t test one-month-old sprouts, because they no longer exist.” Moreover, he points out, sprout farmers use a lot of chlorine in their production as it is, and a solid dousing post-outbreak would eliminate any single farm from culpability.
We at Foodsprout would like to call into question another perspective: This all comes of transparency in the supply chain after the fact, not before. What we’re trying to do here is provide transparency before you eat. As Bittman has wisely pointed out, we’ll never eliminate E. Coli from the universe. But we can minimize our risks and minimize the size of an outbreak when we know more directly where food is coming from, who is handling it, and when.