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Salmonella Blog Surveillance & Analysis on Salmonella News & Outbreaks

Another Sprout Outbreak – 19 ill with Salmonella in Washington, Idaho and Montana

alfalfa-sprouts(1).gifIdaho state public health officials are investigating a number of salmonella cases believed to be connected to the consumption of alfalfa sprouts.

The investigation is ongoing and includes 19 ill persons from northern Idaho, eastern Washington and western Montana. Of the persons reported with salmonella infection linked to the outbreak, six have reported consumption of sprouts obtained from a northern Idaho grower, Evergreen Produce, located in Moyie Springs, Idaho.

Idaho public health officials are recommending that people avoid eating sprouts from Evergreen Produce and discard any Evergreen Produce sprouts in their possession while the investigation is ongoing.

With well over 40 outbreaks linked to sprouts over the last few decades, it should come as no surprise that we have had another one.  Perhaps it is time for a warning:

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As far back as September 1998, the FDA issued a warning against sprouts urging:

children, pregnant women and the elderly should not eat alfalfa sprouts until growers find a way to reduce the risk of a potentially deadly bacteria that infects some sprouts, the Food and Drug Administration said this week. The FDA, which is investigating sprout industry practices, said children, the elderly and people with weakened immune systems should avoid eating sprouts. The agency’s statement, issued Monday, repeated similar but little-noticed advice the U.S. Centers for Disease Control gave to doctors and researchers a year ago.

Here is the CDC warning :

Sprouts Not Healthy Food for Everyone

Children, the elderly, and persons whose immune systems are not functioning well should not eat raw sprouts, because current treatments of seeds and sprouts cannot get rid of all bacteria present.

Persons who are at high risk for complications from foodborne illness should probably not eat raw sprouts, according to an article in the current issue of Emerging Infectious Diseases, CDC’s peer-reviewed journal, which tracks new and reemerging infectious diseases worldwide.

Although sprouts are often considered a “health food,” the warm, humid conditions needed for growing sprouts from seeds are also ideal for bacteria to flourish. Salmonella, E. coli, and other bacteria can grow to high levels without affecting the appearance of the sprouts.

Researchers have treated both seeds and sprouts with heat or washed them in solutions of chlorine, alcohol, and other chemicals. Some of these disinfectants reduced the levels of bacteria, but a potential hazard remained, especially for persons with weak immune systems. High temperatures that would kill the bacteria on the seeds would also keep them from sprouting. Until an effective way is found to prevent illness from sprouts, they should be eaten with caution, if at all.

In 2000, I suggested that a warning label be put on sprout packages.  And, did I tell you it is “Sprout Month?”