SPOKANE, Wash.—Food and Drug Administration officials said they found objectionable conditions at a North Idaho sprouts farm following negative test results for E. coli.
Evergreen Fresh Sprouts of Moyie Springs had been implicated as the potential source of an E. coli outbreak that had sickened 17 people in five states.
READ: N. Idaho sprout farmer: Tests show no link to E. coli outbreak
E. coli test results on the type of sprouts the victims ate had been negative on Monday but the FDA noticed some questionable things at the farm.
Investigators noticed other types of sprouts being treated with water from rusty valves. They also noticed employees using scratched and chipped tennis rackets to scoop some sprouts. Investigators said they saw an employee using a corroded pitchfork to transfer sprouts into plastic bins.
READ: Food history survey tracks Inland Northwest E. coli outbreak
The owner of Evergreen Fresh Sprouts said the negative results showed that his product was safe.
Even after the test results came in, health experts said the farm was not clear.
"So it's really multifaceted. And it would be careless of us if we only relied on the results from the FDA that came back from the specific product,” said Kim Papich with the Spokane Regional Health District.
Staff at the Spokane Regional Health District said they were not surprised that the results on the sprouts came back negative. They said FDA investigators were at Evergreen Fresh Sprouts weeks after the breakout happened. They added that all of the people who became sick with E. coli had reported eating the clover sprouts that were traced back to Evergreen.
"We don't usually have such a good association between a particular product and not only a particular product, but a product that was produced in one plant,” said Papich.
Staff at the Spokane Regional Health District added that the particular strain of E. coli was very rare and was found in all of the patients during the recent outbreak.
"This is very specific testing that said these are the same organisms that are making these people sick,” said Papich.
The Spokane Regional Health District and others were advising people not to eat clover sprouts from Evergreen.
Evergreen Fresh Sprouts did not return KREM 2 News’ calls regarding the FDA’s accusations.