March 3, 2024

Elite E. coli Sharp Shooter for CDC Weighs in on Dangers of Raw Sprouts

Lieutenant Commander Rajal Mody is a medical doctor who works in the Enteric Diseases Epidemiology Branch at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), where he leads many of the agency’s surveillance and epidemiologic studies of Shiga toxin-producing E coli infections and related hemolytic-uremic syndrome (HUS) cases. Dr. Mody has produced a video that the CDC has labeled expert commentary on why people who want to avoid foodborne illness should not consume raw sprouts of any kind.

His insights are contained in one of the links on the latest CDC outbreak update on the Jimmy John’s E. coli clover sprouts outbreak that has sickened at least 14 people in six states, including Michigan and Iowa. While training in CDC’s Epidemic Intelligence Service, Dr. Mody led investigations of some of the largest foodborne disease outbreaks in the United States.

Here’s four key points he makes in his “Hold the Raw Sprouts, Please” video:

So-called sproutbreaks have occurred every year in the United States since at least 1995. Since 1998, more than 30 outbreaks have been reported to the CDC, due to many different kinds of sprouts — alfalfa, bean, clover, and others.

Contaminated sprouts can kill. In Germany and France last year, an E. coli sprouts outbreak killed more than 50 people and sickened more than 4,000 others. The outbreak produced more than 900 cases of life-threatening HUS.

Sprouts growers have implemented practices to decontaminate seeds before sprouting, but no available method has proved completely effective. Sprout contamination typically starts with the seed and the bacteria can’t be washed off a growing sprout.

“Sproutbreaks” predominantly affect healthy persons aged 20-49 years. A typical victim may be an especially health conscious person in the prime of life.

A sprouting seed, grown in warm and moist conditions, is an inviting and nourishing environment for Salmonella or toxic E. coli, including E. coli O157:H7. A single organism on the outside of a seed can easily grow to an infectious dose after it has sprouted.

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