Radish Sprouts Cleared of Outbreak

SproutNet

International Specialty Supply

January 31, 2005

 

Sprouts Cleared from Deadliest Outbreak Attributed to Sprouts

In July, 1996 an outbreak of E.coli 0157:H7 which sickened upwards of 9,000 people in Japan was attributed to kaiware (daikon radish) sprouts.  According to Michina et al. (1998) this was the largest E.coli 0157:H7 outbreak in history, involving 6011 reported illnesses that lead to 13 deaths.  Other sources reported deaths ranging from three to seventeen.   Within two months of the outbreak the Japanese Ministry of Health and Welfare announced that white radish sprouts were the most likely cause of the outbreak. Although the Ministry did not name the sprout grower, spouts from the farm of Hajimu Minamino, 66, of Habikino, Osaka Prefecture were soon identified through media reports as the likely cause of the mass infection of schoolchildren in Sakai City near Osaka. Minamino's sprout sales dropped sharply.

 

The announcement sent a chilling effect throughout Japan and many parts of the world on the safety of sprouts.  Sprout sales plummeted, and health organizations scrambled to insure this disaster would not happen in their jurisdictions.  Press releases throughout the world warned consumers of the dangers of sprouts.

 

In December 1996 The Nihon Kaiware Kyokai, a radish sprout industry association, and 18 daikon sprout growers nationwide quickly filed a joint damages suit against the government, claiming that there was not sufficient evidence to support the announcement.

 

Four months later, in March 1997, Mr. Hajime Minamino, the radish sprout grower in Habikino, in Osaka Prefecture, filed suit against the Japanese government for the announcement. He claimed that the ministry's announcement had no scientific basis.

 

In 1999, the parents of one student who died in the food poisoning outbreak sued the Sakai Municipal Government for damages.  The district court's Sakai branch acknowledged in 1999 that food prepared at a local public school, rather than radish sprouts, was the source of the contamination and ordered the city to pay damages.

 

Yet inMay, 2001, the Tokyo District Court dismissed the claim of The Nihon Kaiware Kyokai Association and 18 sprout growers, saying, "There was nothing irrational in the government surveys and the subsequent announcements were also appropriate."

 

However, inMarch, 2002  The Osaka District Court ordered the state to pay 6 million yen in damages to Mr. Hajime Minamino.

 

InMay 2003the Tokyo High Court overturned the Tokyo District Court and ordered the government to pay 16.9 million yen to the The Nihon Kaiware Kyokai Association and 18 sprout growers for business damages suffered from the unwarranted announcement.

 

InFebruary, 2004 the Osaka High Court upheld the lower court ruling ordering the government to pay 6 million yen to Mr. Hajime Minamino.

December 2004, The Japanese Supreme Court rejected a state appeal against rulings.

According to Japan Today, the rejection "finalized orders issued by the Tokyo and Osaka high courts that the central government pay a total of 22.9 million yen to radish sprout growers and sellers for hurting their business by saying the vegetable was a probable cause of the outbreak caused by the O-157 strain of E. coli bacteria."

This outbreak, falsely reported as sprout related, put a red flag on sprouts that triggered suspicion of sprouts as a possible cause of numerous outbreaks in which sprouts were consumed by those who were food poisoned.  Though apparently unjustified, it remains on US and other government's documents and research articles as the single largest outbreak attributed to sprouts.  This outbreak accounts for all but one death attributed to sprouts.