The FSA put out guidance last Saturday telling consumers not to eat any raw sprouted seeds, after a British seed firm was linked by French authorities to the E.coli outbreak.
Following the FSA's advice, volume sales of bean sprouts fell 30%, according to estimates by the FPC, even though most are sold for use in stir-fries and not typically consumed raw.
Good4You, a Northern Irish supplier of branded sprouted seeds, said its products were taken off Sainsbury's shelves, and Aconbury Sprouts said Waitrose had delisted two of the three Aconbury products it stocked because the sprouts alfalfa and radish were not suited to cooking and therefore could not be consumed in line with FSA guidance.
"None of our other customers have taken this decision, but the size of our contract with Waitrose means that this may have a devastating effect on our business," said Aconbury's Jim Hardy. "The FSA advice in its current form is entirely unjustified and needs to be revised urgently."
By advising consumers to steer clear of all raw sprouts, large, professional suppliers to the multiples with stringent safety procedures were being treated the same as much smaller growers and amateurs sprouting seeds at home, he added.
The FPC said the FSA also needed to be clearer about what it meant by 'sprouted seeds' to avoid confusion with 'seeds for sprouting'. "Without clear and precise consumer advice significant and unnecessary damage will be done to UK sprout producers," it said. It also called on the FSA to reconsider its advice for all sprouts to be cooked, given that "many sprouted seeds are eaten raw and would not be cooked."
As The Grocer went to press, the FSA was expected to update its guidance to give more detailed advice about eating sprouts.