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Cutchogue vegetable farm gives the all-clear after salmonella find

Two of Long Island’s best-known vegetable growers, Paulette Satur and Eberhard Müller, of Cutchogue, were disappointed to learn last week that an inspector had found a trace of salmonella on a wholesale shipment of cilantro. 

Though the Food and Drug Administration lab pinpointed only a single bacterium -- just one -- and no other problems were suspected with Satur Farms’ produce, Müller and Satur immediately had all their other varieties of produce tested in a lab.  

"Everything came in negative except the cilantro seed which came back 'suspect'" as a possible source of the bacterium, Müller said. 

"The inspector used that word, bacterium -- not the plural bacteria -- just one," Müller said.

"To our knowledge no one got sick, and none of this is in circulation," Müller said. He said he did not know if anyone ate cilantro from the shipment. 

The seed came from a west coast supplier, he said. He said he did not know how, or whether, the contamination was transferred from the seed to the cilantro grown from it. 

The farm recalled all 138 pounds of cilantro they’d grown from that batch of suspect seed, and it all — including the seed — was discarded, Müller said. He said he did not know whether the FDA would take action against the seed supplier. 

The cilantro had been sold to six wholesale customers in New York City and on Long Island in half-pound  and one-pound bulk bags, each with a small white stick-on label with the four-digit lot number 6347. Most was sold to a single customer, whom Müller declined to name. None of the cilantro went to retail stores, he said. 

It was the first time in the 15-year history of Satur Farms that health inspectors found a contaminant in its produce, Müller said. 

Müller, former chef at two legendary French restaurants in Manhattan, Lutèce and Le Bernardin, said Satur Farms has always maintained a sanitation regime that is far more stringent than required. 

"The cause was not a lack of cleanliness, if anything we err on the side of caution," Müller said. “We train our workers about sanitation, we think, better than they would be trained in a hospital.” 

In his 45 years' experience in the food business in France and the U.S., Müller said, he learned that food-service professionals know salmonella is very commonly found in raw produce but is easily eliminated by an acidic rinse in water with vinegar or lemon juice. 

Customers with any questions may contact Satur at 631-734-4219, Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Photo: An employee at Satur Farms packs squash blossoms into containers. The  FDA recall did not affect Satur's squash blossoms or other produce; only specific lots of cilantro.

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