Alfalfa sprouts blamed in Oregon Salmonella outbreak

Dec 2, 2003 (CIDRAP News) – Contaminated alfalfa sprouts were the probable cause of at least six recent cases of Salmonella infection in Oregon, according to the Oregon Department of Human Services (ODHS).

Harmony Farms, an Auburn, Wash., firm, has recalled alfalfa and onion sprouts from retail stores and restaurants throughout Oregon, Washington, and Alaska, the department announced last week.

Dr. Emilio DeBess, an ODHS epidemiologist in Portland, said there were six outbreak-linked cases in Oregon and a possible seventh case in Washington. None of the patients were hospitalized and all have recovered, DeBess told CIDRAP News yesterday.

DeBess said it was unclear how the sprouts became contaminated. Harmony Farms had increased its testing of water used to irrigate the sprouts after a previous salmonellosis outbreak in March, he said, adding, "To their knowledge as of last Friday there were no positives. . . . They were really being responsible and making sure nothing was contaminated."

DeBess said it appeared that the company was following the Food and Drug Administration's (FDA's) recommendations for preventing pathogenic contamination of sprouts. "They were pretty aware of what the recommendations were and were involved in that aspect of it," he said.

In 1999 the FDA recommended that growers disinfect sprout seeds with solutions such as calcium hypochlorite and test used irrigation water for Salmonella and Escherichia coli O157:H7. However, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in a report last year that even a high-dose (20,000 parts per million) treatment with calcium hypochlorite solution is not completely effective on seeds.

See also:

Jan 2002 CDC report discussing effectiveness of safety recommendations concerning sprouts
http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm5101a3.htm

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