The Blade/Lisa Dutton
Toledo-area customers will have to look a little harder to buy alfalfa and bean sprouts following an announcement Friday that Kroger Co. will stop selling those produce items because of potential food safety risks.
Other area grocery retailers say they will continue to sell sprouts, but at least one said he will study the issue.
“After a thorough, science-based review, we have decided to voluntarily discontinue selling fresh sprouts,” Payton Pruett, Kroger’s vice president of food safety, said in a statement released Friday morning.
Cincinnati-based Kroger is the nation’s largest traditional supermarket chain with 2,425 stores, including 18 in the Toledo area.
Mr. Pruett said ensuring the safety of sprouts was difficult because “pathogens may reside inside of the seeds where they cannot be reached by the currently available processing interventions.” Kroger said it would no longer carry the items unless new methods to prevent food-borne illnesses could be devised to assure consumer safety.
Jackie Siekmann, a Kroger spokesman in Columbus, said the chain had been looking at the problem for years. She noted that since 2009, 26 safety recalls of sprouts have been issued. “Only six of the 26 recalls affected Kroger products, but two of those recalls occurred just this year,” she said.
The recalls include problems involving E. coli, salmonella, and listeria, Ms. Siekmann said. “The sales volume on this product is relatively low, but there’s been a high number of outbreaks and the math just didn’t add up for us,” she added.
Kroger is not the first retailer to stop selling sprouts. Wal-Mart Stores Inc. stopped selling alfalfa sprouts in 2010 after a multistate salmonella outbreak. Fast-food restaurant chain Jimmy John’s Gourmet Sandwiches, which included alfalfa sprouts on several of its menu items, dropped the use of sprouts permanently in February after the chain became associated with a five-state outbreak of a rare E. coli strain — the fifth outbreak involving sprouts traced back to Jimmy John’s franchises since 2008.
Pittsburgh-based Giant Eagle, which has two Toledo-area stores, said it would continue to monitor the sprout controversy, but it is not ready to stop selling the product because its customers still enjoy sprouts and expect the retailer to carry them. “Safety is paramount at Giant Eagle,” a spokesman said. “We will work with our supply partners to continue monitoring the quality and freshness of all the items we carry.”
A Meijer spokesman said the company could not comment at this time.
Locally, Darlene Carmona, manager of Walt Churchill’s Market in Perrysburg, said there are risks involved in many products and grocers try hard to keep items safe. “I know we’ve had other items recalled from the store. But if there’s a demand for the product and the customers want it, we will carry it,” she said. “Frankly, you take a risk on anything you do.”
A manager at Monnette’s Markets said it had never experienced a problem with sprouts and likely would continue to carry them. But Jim Sautter, owner of Sautter’s 5-Star Markets in Sylvania and Waterville, said the decision by Kroger was an eye-opener.
“I may have to contact my produce supplier and find out what his take on it is. I’d be real curious about that,” Mr. Sautter said.
“My wholesaler is a half-a-billion-dollar business, so if there’s anything to this, he’d know. If I find out it’s a risk and it’s something harmful, I will probably follow suit,” Mr. Sautter said. “But I’d definitely want to find out the facts first.”
Contact Jon Chavez at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6128.