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Compost Manure to Avoid E. Coli and Other Foodborne Pathogens

6/23/2011 10:48:04 AM

Tags: compost, manure, foodborne pathogens, E. coli, sprouts, food safety

Composting ManureA deadly E. coli outbreak in northern Germany had government officials originally suspecting sprouts from an organic farm to be the cause. However, in a statement released Monday, June 6, 2011, test results were released that found no evidence that sprouts from an organic farm were the cause of the outbreak, according to The Associated Press.  

As of Thursday, June 16, over 3,000 German citizens, mostly adults, had been effected by the rare E. coli O104:H4 strain, according to Food Saftey News’ website. 

The geographic source of the outbreak is still unknown; however, the E. coli epidemic has been linked specifically to bean sprouts and no other vegetable. The sprouts are responsible for the worst recorded outbreak of E. coli infections and a death toll of 39 people. 

Mark A. Kastel, co-director and senior farm policy analyst at The Cornucopia Institute, a farm policy research group based in Cornucopia, Wis., reminds us how important it is to know the origin of your manure, otherwise it could become the source of spreading foodborne pathogens such as E. coli. 

The new practice of raising beef and dairy cattle on highly concentrated factory farms and feeding them grain in high rations changes the pH in cattle rumen, according to Kastel. These pH changes are responsible for creating more deadly E. coli pathogens, which are alive and well in manure.   

When we spread this type of manure around growing produce, eating that produce raw becomes dangerous. Using contaminated manure from concentrated factory farms can encourage the spread of highly toxic strains of foodborne pathogens in raw food. 

To kill these pathogens, organic farmers are required to compost their manure before they spread it on crops. Conventional farms, however, are not required to follow this strict management practice. As a result, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has seen 10 sprout recalls in the past two and a half years (since April 2009). Nine of these were because sprouts from conventional farms tested positive for foodborne pathogens, while only one was because sprouts from an organic farm tested positive (90 percent conventional, 10 percent organic). 

Below is a chart detailing all FDA sprout recalls since April 2009. 

Brand Name 






Conventional or Organic 




Caldwell Fresh Foods 

Alfalfa Sprouts 




Chang Farm 

Bean and Soy Sprouts 

Listeria monocytogenes 



Chang Farm 

Bean and Soy Sprouts 

Listeria monocytogenes 



Calco Brand 

Alfalfa sprouts 




Kowalke Family Sprouts 

Alfalfa sprouts 




Specialty Farms 

Alfalfa sprouts 



7/23/2010 and 7/29/2010 

Snow White Food 

Alfalfa sprouts 




Living Foods 

Alfalfa sprouts 





Various sprouts 





Alfalfa sprouts 


The original recall, based on positive test results, was limited to conventional.  The recall was expanded to include organic as a precaution  (no organic products tested positive). 

4/19/2011 and 4/24/2011 

For more information on foodborne pathogens spread through unhealthy manure, check out The Root of Our Food Contamination Problems by Alison Rogers. 

Also, visit The Cornucopia Institute’s website for more information on supporting ecologically produced, local, organic and authentic food.

Natalie Mae Schaefer is an Online Editorial Assistant at Ogden Publications, the parent company of MOTHER EARTH NEWS. Find her on .

Chart courtesy of The Cornucopia Institute; photo from Fotolia


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Post a comment below.


t brandt
6/24/2011 4:06:01 PM
A disengenuous presentation of the "facts." While only one of of 10 recalls came from organic farms, we must ask, "well, how many orgainc farms are there compared to conventional farms?" Answser= not very many and a huge number, respectively. That one organic recall represents a compartively big percentage. The real message should be: wash and cook food thoroughly, or take your chances- which, BTW, is not a very big risk. Don't forget Americans eat almost a billion meals per day, 365 days a year (that's 350 billion per year) and there are less than 3000 deaths per year from food posioning (and 1000 of those are from Staph from a dirty hand in the kitchen). We have 35,000 traffic deaths per year, for perspective.

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