Salmonella outbreaks in the U.S. and Australia highlight the danger of sprouts. In South Australia, 223 people have been sickened with Salmonella St Paul infections after eating bean sprouts. Forty three of them have been hospitalized. In the U.S., a Salmonella outbreak linked to alfalfa sprouts has sickened 13 people in four states, hospitalizing five of them.
Sprouts are a known source of food poisoning that have been the source of more than 40 outbreaks over the last 20 years, causing 2,405 illnesses, 171 hospitalizations, and three deaths federal health officials say. Some of these outbreaks were linked to sprouts contaminated with Salmonella, others were linked to sprouts contaminated with E. coli or Listeria.
The warm, humid environments with nutrient-rich soils that are ideal fro growing sprouts are also ideal for growing bacteria. To prevent contamination, growers are supposed to employ safeguards to prevent bacteria from entering the growing area such as treating seeds, testing irrigation water, testing for bacteria and taking corrective actions if any samples are positive.
Still, contaminated sprouts often make their way to the market. How can consumers protect themselves? Public health officials advise that the safest way to consume sprouts is to cook them.
The U.S. outbreak includes cases in Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri and Pennsylvania. Using DNA “fingerprinting” tests, health officials have so far identified 13 people infected with the outbreak strain of Salmonella Muenchen.
During interviews with health officials, those sickened 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 also named at least five restaurants where they purchased food containing the contaminated sprouts. Traceback investigations from these restaurants revealed that Sweetwater Farms supplied alfalfa sprouts to all five locations. Sweetwater Farms recalled lot 042016 of alfalfa sprouts voluntarily.
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. Anyone who developed these symptoms after eating these sprouts should contact a doctor and mention exposure to Salmonella.