Contaminated sprout seeds suspected in Salmonella outbreaks

Apr 27, 2009 (CIDRAP News) – Federal health officials yesterday warned consumers not to eat raw alfalfa sprouts, including blends that contain the sprouts, until further notice, because the seeds used by growers around the country may be contaminated with Salmonella.

Six states—Michigan, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Utah, and West Virginia—have reported 31 illnesses with the same outbreak strain of Salmonella enterica serotype Saintpaul, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said in an Apr 26 press release.

The FDA, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), state, and local authorities have associated the outbreak with eating raw alfalfa sprouts. Most of the patients reported eating raw alfalfa sprouts, some from restaurants and others purchased in retail stores.

The FDA said an investigation suggests lots of potentially contaminated alfalfa seeds may have been sold around the country, which may account for the illness spread across multiple states.

Illnesses began in mid March, cases are still being reported, and the FDA said it expects to receive more reports from more states.

An initial investigation has traced possibly contaminated raw alfalfa sprouts to multiple sprout growers in different states. "This suggests a potential problem with the seeds used, as well as the possible failure of the sprout growers to appropriately and consistently follow the FDA sprout guidance issued in 1999," the FDA said.

The guidance urges growers to disinfect the seeds immediately before growing and regularly testing each batch of water used in sprout production for Salmonella and Escherichia coli O157:H7.

The latest illnesses appear to be linked to an earlier outbreak in February and March when the same indistinguishable outbreak strain sickened at least 100 patients in Nebraska, South Dakota, Iowa, Kansas, and Minnesota, the FDA said. However, the pathogen was never found in the product samples, though the company recalled the sprouts as a precaution.

See also:

Apr 26 FDA press release

Mar 9 CIDRAP News story "Sprouts-linked Salmonella outbreak grows to 5 states"

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