February 26, 2020

CDC Changes Source of Alfalfa Sprout Salmonella Outbreak, Ends Investigation

alfalfa-sprouts 2The Salmonella outbreak linked to alfalfa sprouts has ended after sickening 26 people in 12 states, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Eight people were hospitalized.

State and federal health officials initially identified Sweetwater Farms of Inman, Kansas as the source of the outbreak, but have since discovered that the source of the outbreak was a contaminated seed lot used by multiple sprouters.

The CDC has not released information on the outbreak since it was first announced on February 23, 2016. At that time, 13 people in four states were infected with the outbreak strain Salmonella Muenchen: in Kansas (5), Missouri (3), Oklahoma (3), and Pennsylvania (2). And state and federal health officials said traceback investigations from multiple restaurants where ill people ate sprouts indicated that Sweetwater Farms was the source of the outbreak.  Health officials did not release the names of the restaurants where the tainted sprouts were served. Sweetwater withdrew its sprouts from the market.

But illnesses continued to be reported after the withdrawal. In fact, the number of illnesses doubled since then with cases reported from Kansas (5), Maryland (2), Missouri (3), New Jersey (2), New York (2), North Carolina (1), North Dakota (1), Ohio (1), Oklahoma (3), Pennsylvania (3), Virginia (2) and Washington (1).

Twenty five of those sickened were infected with the outbreak strains of Salmonella Muenchen, one person was infected with the outbreak strain Salmonella Kentucky. During interviews with health officials, 17 of the 22 contacted reported eating or possibly eating sprouts in the week before illness started. Onset of illness dates ranged from November 26, 2015 to April 7, 2016. Seventy-six percent of those sickened, who ranged in age from 12 to 73, were female. There were no fatalities.

In February 2016, investigators from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Kansas Department of Agriculture had collected samples of irrigation water and alfalfa sprouts from Sweetwater Farms. Tests on those samples were positive for strains of Salmonella Kentucky and Salmonella Cubana. Salmonella Muenchen was not isolated. Using the PulseNet database, the CDC identified one recently reported illness with the same strain of Salmonella Kentucky and  added this person to the outbreak case count.

Further investigation determined that multiple sprouters including Sweetwater Farms had used a common lot of alfalfa seeds to produce alfalfa sprouts. The FDA tested samples of seeds from this lot and found the same strain of Salmonella Cubana it has isolated from the irrigation water from Sweetwater Farms.

When notified, the seed supplier contacted sprouters who received the contaminated lot of seeds so they could be removed from the market, according to the FDA.

Salmonella can cause an infection in the intestinal tract called salmonellosis. Symptoms, which include nausea, abdominal cramps and diarrhea that can be bloody, usually develop within six to 72 hours of exposure. Those most at risk are seniors, children and those with compromised immune systems.

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