Michigan officials are urging residents to discard vegetables grown at a farm in the village of Homer, saying the produce sold by grocers in more than a dozen towns across the state is potentially tainted with human waste.
A routine safety inspection found Kuntry Gardens was using "raw, untreated human waste on the fields where produce was grown for sale to local grocery stores and direct sale," the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD) said Monday in an advisory to consumers.
The use of human waste to grow crops meant to be eaten by people is illegal and unsafe, according to the agency. If not professionally treated, human waste and other body fluids can spread dangerous diseases such as hepatitis A, clostridium difficile, e-coli, rotavirus and norovirus, MDARD added.
No illnesses have been reported yet, but MDARD urged anyone with symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, jaundice, fever, abdominal cramps, headache or other symptoms of foodborne illness to seek medical care.
Andy Stutzman, owner of Kuntry Gardens, apologized for what had occurred, and said it was never his intention to use human waste as fertilizer.
Closed until next spring
"It just got dumped instead of the proper procedure, in an area five feet by five feet in the field," Stutzman told CBS MoneyWatch. "Because of this spot, they concluded it could have extended to the rest of the farm," said Stutzman, who acknowledges his error while expressing frustration that the state had not tested the soil.
"We were going through inspection, I was trying to be honest. I flat-out told them what happened. It was our fault," Stutzman said of the inspection, which he said took place in March or April.
"We are all about food safety. We do not want to put anything out there that is not safe," said Stutzman, who is closing his business for the remainder of the year, with plans to test the soil and reopen next spring. "That's our livelihood," said Stutzman of the farm he's run since 2009.
Kuntry Gardens-labeled produce was sold by at least 10 retailers at locations in at least 19 towns in Michigan, and may have been distributed at additional spots. The produce was sold by retailers in Ann Arbor, Brighton, Canton, Chelsea, Clinton, Dexter, Farmington Hills, Homer, Livonia, Novi, Pinckney, Plymouth-Northville, Rochester Hills, Saline, South Lyon, Tecumseh, Traverse City, West Bloomfield and Ypsilanti.
One grocer, Busch's Fresh Food Market, issued a recall on the Kuntry Gardens produce it sells, saying it would offer refunds for any Kuntry Gardens produce purchased since August 1, according to the Detroit Free Press. That includes green beans, cabbage, cucumbers, eggplant, onions, peppers, squash, sweet potatoes and tomatoes, according to the Ann Arbor-based grocer, which operates 16 stores in Michigan.
Another business said it's cutting ties with Kuntry Gardens.
"We received word today that one of the farms we were buying produce from has contaminated fields," Ann Arbor's White Lotus Farms wrote on social media. "We will no longer be doing business with them but want to let you know about this immediately. If you purchased zucchini, summer squash, tomatoes or green peppers recently, please throw them out and ask for a refund on your next visit."
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