Recent outbreak just one in a string affecting supposedly “healthy” foods
At the end of last month, a nationwide recall was announced by the Food & Drug Administration related to an outbreak of Salmonella Newport connected with chia powder and smoothie mix. The products in question were sold under the brand names Navitas Naturals Organic Sprouted Chia Powder, Navitas Naturals Omega Blend Sprouted Smoothie Mix, and Williams-Sonoma Omega 3 Smoothie Mixer.
So far, in this latest outbreak, 12 people have tested positive for Salmonella in the US. These victims reside in seven states: Arizona, California, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New York, Utah, and Wisconsin. Symptoms of Salmonella poisoning in a healthy adult often include fever, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting and abdominal pain. The condition can be fatal to children, the elderly, and those with weakened immune systems.
In addition the Public Health Agency of Canada is collaborating with Provincial public health partners, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, and Health Canada to investigate nine Canadian cases of Salmonella infection linked to the consumption of dried sprouted chia seed powder. Sprouted chia seed powder is made from ground, dried chia seeds.
In Canada, two strains of Salmonella have been identified associated with this outbreak: Salmonella Newport and Salmonella Hartford. In total, 9 cases have been reported in British Columbia (6), Alberta (1) and Quebec (2). One case was hospitalized and has recovered. No deaths have been reported. The investigation is ongoing but currently, 7 of 7 cases that have been interviewed have reported consumption of dried sprouted chia seed powder.
Bill Marler, a prominent food safety advocate and foodborne illness attorney, says that oftentimes people don’t understand that healthy and health-food products can be just as susceptible to food safety issues as animal products.
“I find that food recalls are often associated in people’s minds with meat and eggs. Unfortunately, organic items as well as fruits and vegetables can also put someone at risk for a foodborne illness,” said Marler, who has been working to help improve food safety standards since representing victims of the Jack In The Box E. coli outbreak in the early 1990s.
In just the last several months, there have been recalls on “healthy” food items, such as mangos, prepared/packaged salads, basil, and packaged sliced fruit, among others. One of the more prominent recalls in recent memory was 2012’s outbreak from listeria-tainted cantaloupe that sickened at least 147 and killed 33, but the most notorious offender on the healthy foods list? Sprouts.
“No one should be eating sprouts. Ever. They cannot be cleaned properly to guarantee safety and have been responsible for countless illnesses,” said Marler. The most recent recall of sprouts was in May 2014 when at least 10 people in Washington and Idaho were sickened with E. coli O121 after consuming product packaged by Evergreen Fresh Sprouts.
So what’s a food safety conscious home cook to do?
“Wash all your fruits and vegetables well, even if pre-washed,” Marler advises. “Cook meat to the recommended temperature and never eat a hamburger with pink in the middle. And despite health claims: avoid raw milk and sprouts. Those two really are the wild cards of the health food world—any nutritional benefits just aren’t worth the fact they have the potential to make you sick or, even, kill.”
ABOUT BILL MARLER: Bill Marler is an accomplished food safety advocate and attorney. He began litigating foodborne illness cases in 1993, when he successfully represented Brianne Kiner, the most seriously injured survivor of the Jack in the Box E. coli O157:H7 outbreak. Over the years, Bill and his firm, Marler Clark, have become the leaders in representing victims of foodborne illness, and have gone against companies that include Odwalla, Chili’s, ConAgra, Dole, KFC, Sizzler, Golden Corral and Wendy’s.
Bill spends much of his time traveling to address food industry groups, fair associations, and public health groups about foodborne illness, related litigation, and surrounding issues. He has testified before Congress as well as State Legislatures. He is a frequent author of articles related to foodborne illness in food safety journals and magazines as well as on his personal blog, www.marlerblog.com. Bill also founded Food Safety News (www.foodsafetynews.com) as a one-stop resource for global food safety news and information.