An E. coli outbreak linked to alfalfa sprouts produced by Jack & the Green Sprouts has sickened seven people in Minnesota and two in Wisconsin, according to the Minnesota Department of Health. Consumers should not eat and retailers and restaurants should not sell or serve Jack & the Green Sprouts brand alfalfa sprouts as E. coli can cause serious illness.
The sprouts at issue were packaged in a plastic clamshell with a “brightly colored round label on top that notes the sprout variety,” according to the Minnesota Department of Health. They may be mixed with other sprout varieties.
Located in River Falls, Wisconsin, Jack & The Green Sprouts distributes alfalfa sprouts to states in the upper Midwest. Those sickened purchased the contaminated sprouts at a variety of locations including grocery stores, restaurants, salad bars and from commercial food service operations.
Minnesota health officials have used DNA “fingerprinting” to identify seven cases of E. coli O157:NM infection from January to early February. Five of the seven Minnesotans sickened, who range in age from 18 to 84 years old, are female. Four of them are residents of the Twin Cities metropolitan area, three live in greater Minnesota. Two people were hospitalized, both have recovered, according to state health officials.
Two cases in Wisconsin are also considered part of this outbreak. Neither of them required hospitalization.
Minnesota and Wisconsin health officials are working with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to investigate the outbreak. The FDA and state officials are collecting and testing samples to determine the source of the outbreak. The investigation is considered ongoing as “the extent of the product contamination is unknown,” according to the Minnesota Department of Health.
In Minnesota, about 150 cases of E. coli O157 are reported each year. Symptoms of an E. coli O157 infection include stomach cramps and diarrhea, that is sometimes bloody. Sometimes these symptoms are accompanied by a low-grade fever. Onset of illness usually occurs two to five days after exposure to contaminated food and lasts a week to 10 days.
Some people with E. coli infections develop serious complications including hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS) which leads to kidney failure. Those most at risk for contracting an E. coli infection and developing complications are children, seniors and those with weakened immune systems.
Diarrhea associated with E. coli O157 infections should not be treated with antibiotics, as this can increase the risk of developing HUS. Anyone who ate the sprouts and has symptoms of an E. coli O157 infection should contact their health care provider and mention exposure to E. coli through these sprouts.
This outbreak is occurring at the same time as a multistate Salmonella outbreak that is also linked to alfalfa sprouts. That outbreak has sickened 13 people in Kansas, Missouri, Oklahoma and Pennsylvania
Sprouts are a common source of foodborne illness 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.
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.