A Salmonella outbreak linked to alfalfa sprouts has sickened at least 13 people in four states, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Five people have been hospitalized.
Health officials have linked the illnesses to alfalfa sprouts produced by Sweetwater Farms has recalled lot 042016 voluntarily, according to the Kansas Department of Health and Environment. State and federal health officials advise consumers not to eat and retailers not to sell or serve alfalfa sprouts from Sweetwater Farms.
Symptoms of a Salmonella infection, which include nausea, vomiting and diarrhea that can be bloody, usually develop within six to 72 hours of exposure and last about a week. For some people the diarrhea and vomiting can be so severe it causes dehydration, and hospitalization is required. If the infection travels from the gastrointestinal tract to the bloodstream more serious, life-threatening complications can occur.
Health officials have used DNA “fingerprinting” tests to identify 13 people in four states who have been infected with the outbreak strain of Salmonella Muenchen. Onset of illnesses dates range from December 1, 2015 to January 21, 2016.By state, the case count is as follows: Kansas (5), Missouri (3), Oklahoma (3), and Pennsylvania (2). Most of the case patients, who range in age from 18 years to 73 years old and have a median age of 51, are female.
During interviews with case patients, 10 of 12 people reported eating sprouts or menu items containing sprouts in the week before becoming ill. Nine of them reported eating alfalfa sprouts. One of them identified Sweetwater Farms as the brand of sprouts they purchased from a grocery store and ate before becoming ill.
Case patients consumed the tainted sprouts at five restaurants. Traceback investigations from these restaurants revealed that Sweetwater Farms supplied alfalfa sprouts to all five locations.
Lab tests on samples of irrigation water and alfalfa sprouts collected during a recent inspection at Sweetwater Farms were positive for Salmonella. Further testing is underway to determine the type of Salmonella and its DNA fingerprint.
In Kansas, where most of the illnesses have occurred, the Department of Health and Environment issued a February 19 warning to consumers about the sprouts.
Sprouts are a common source of illnesses. Since 1996, there have been more than 30 “sproutbreaks” or outbreaks of illness linked to sprouts contaminated with Salmonella, Listeria, E. coli and other pathogens. In 2014, sprouts were the source of two large multistate outbreaks. One of them, a Salmonella outbreak linked to Wonton Foods bean sprouts, sickened 111 people in 12 states. About a quarter of those sickened were hospitalized. Another, was an E. coli 0121 outbreak linked to raw clover sprouts that sickened 19 people in 6 states. That outbreak was linked to Evergreen Fresh Sprouts of Idaho.
Because of the damp environment required to grow sprouts it is difficult to control for bacteria. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that children, seniors, pregnant women, and those with weakened immune systems avoid eating raw sprouts of any kind and that others thoroughly cook sprouts before eating them. To see FoodSafety.gov’s fact sheet on sprouts click here.