The fifth largest food poisoning outbreak of 2016 was the Salmonella Muenchen and Salmonella Kentucky outbreak linked to raw alfalfa sprouts. These sprouts came from one contaminated seed lot and were sold under various names. The sprouts were produced by multiple facilities, including Sweetwater Farms of Inman, Kansas.
At least 26 people in 12 states were sickened in this outbreak. Eight people were hospitalized. No deaths were reported. The case count by state was: 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 people were sickened with the outbreak strain of Salmonella Muenchen, and 1 person was sickened with the outbreak strain of Salmonella Kentucky.
Illnesses started on dates ranging from November 26, 2015 to April 7, 2016. Patients ranged in age from 12 to 73 years, and 76% of patients were female.
Alfalfa sprouts by multiple sprouts from one lot of contaminated seeds were the likely source of this outbreak, according to investigative efforts by state, local, and federal health officials. This case was complicated because there were two types of bacteria in the outbreak.
Of the 22 ill persons who were interviewed, 17, or 77%, said they ate or possibly ate sprouts the week before they got sick. Ninety-four percent of those 17 people ate alfalfa sprouts. Traceback investigations found that Sweetwater Farms of Inman, Kansas supplied alfalfa sprouts to all of the restaurants where the ill persons ate sprouts. An inspection of Sweetwater Farms isolated Salmonella Kentucky and Salmonella Cubana. Salmonella Muenchen was not identified.
Sweetwater Farms withdrew all of its sprouts sprouts from the market on February 26, 2016. But people were still getting sick with the outbreak strain of Salmonella Muenchen, and many of those people ate alfalfa sprouts before they became ill.
Traceback investigations found that sprouts other than Sweetwater Farms produced those alfalfa sprouts. All of these sprouters, along with Sweetwater Farms, used a common lot of alfalfa seeds to produce the sprouts. FDA tested samples of seeds from that lot and isolated Salmonella Cubana with the same DNA fingerprint of the bacteria found in Sweetwater Farms irrigation water.
The FDA reminds people that raw sprouts are a health risk. There have been many foodborne illness outbreaks in the past few years linked to these types of products. The seeds themselves can be contaminated with pathogenic bacteria. When they are grown in a moist, wet environment, the bacteria multiply quickly.
Everyone who is at risk for food poisoning should avoid eating raw sprouts. That includes the elderly, the very young, pregnant women, those with chronic illnesses, and people with compromised immune systems.
If you are eating at a restaurant, ask that raw sprouts not be added to your food. And if you buy a sandwich from a deli or restaurant, make sure raw sprouts are not included.
The symptoms of a Salmonella infection include diarrhea that may be bloody, fever, abdominal cramps, nausea, and vomiting. These symptoms usually begin six to seventy-two hours after exposure to the pathogenic bacteria.