Earlier this week, FDA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommended that consumers not eat raw alfalfa sprouts, including sprout blends containing alfalfa sprouts, as the product has been linked to Salmonella serotype Saintpaul contamination. Other types of sprouts have not been implicated at this time.
The investigation indicates that the problem may be linked to contamination of seeds for alfalfa sprouts. Because suspect lots of seeds may be sold around the country and may account for a large proportion of the alfalfa seeds currently being used by sprout growers, and cases of illness are spread across multiple states, FDA and CDC are issuing this general advisory.
CDC, FDA, and six state and local authorities have associated this outbreak with eating raw alfalfa sprouts. Michigan, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Utah, and West Virginia have reported 31 cases of illness with the outbreak strain of Salmonella Saintpaul to CDC. Most of those who became ill reported eating raw alfalfa sprouts. Some reported eating raw sprouts at restaurants; others reported purchasing the raw sprouts at the retail level.
The illnesses began in mid-March. Cases are still being reported, and possible cases are in various stages of laboratory testing, so illnesses may appear in other states. No deaths have been reported. The number of infected people may be higher than currently reported because some illnesses have not yet been confirmed with laboratory testing.
Initial investigation results trace the contaminated raw alfalfa sprouts to multiple sprout growers in multiple states. This suggests a potential problem with the seeds used, as well as the possible failure of the sprout growers involved to appropriately and consistently follow the FDA Sprout Guidance issued in 1999. The guidance recommends an effective seed disinfection treatment immediately before the start of sprouting and regularly testing the water used for every batch of sprouts for Salmonella and E. coli O157:H7 contamination.
This outbreak appears to be an extension of an earlier outbreak in 2009. In February and March, an outbreak of Salmonella Saintpaul infections occurred in Nebraska, South Dakota, Iowa, Kansas, and Minnesota. This outbreak was linked to raw alfalfa sprouts, and the outbreak strain was indistinguishable from that of these recently reported cases. A separate outbreak of Listeria monocytogenes infections was also linked to sprouts in 2009.
FDA will work with the alfalfa sprout industry to help identify which seeds and alfalfa sprouts are not connected with this contamination, so that this advisory can be changed as quickly as possible.
Source: FDA news release