What is the Problem and What is Being Done About It?
The FDA, CDC, state and local officials are investigating a multi-state outbreak of Salmonella Muenchen illnesses linked to alfalfa sprouts produced by Sweetwater Farms LLC, Inman, Kansas.
The CDC reports that 13 people were infected with the outbreak strains of Salmonella Muenchen in four states: Kansas (5), Missouri (3), Oklahoma (3), and Pennsylvania (2). Five people have been hospitalized. Reported illness onset dates range from December 1, 2015 through January 21, 2016.
Collaborative investigation efforts of the FDA, CDC, Kansas Department of Health and Environment, Kansas Department of Agriculture, and Oklahoma Department of Health indicate that sprouts produced by Sweetwater Farms LLC are the likely source of this outbreak. Irrigation water and alfalfa sprout samples collected by the FDA from Sweetwater Farms LLC tested positive for Salmonella. Testing to identify the specific strain of Salmonella is ongoing.
On February 19, 2016, after discussions with the FDA and other federal, state, and local agencies, Sweetwater Farms LLC voluntarily recalled alfalfa sprouts from lot 042016. On February 26, 2016, Sweetwater Farms informed the FDA that it would recall all of its sprout products from the market. The FDA is working with the company and Kansas officials to facilitate this action. This investigation is ongoing. The FDA will continue to provide updates on the investigation as they become available.
What are the Symptoms of Salmonella?
Most people infected with Salmonella develop diarrhea, fever, and abdominal cramps. The illness usually lasts 4 to 7 days, and most people recover without treatment.
How Soon do Symptoms Appear After Exposure?
Most people infected with Salmonella develop diarrhea, fever, and abdominal cramps 12 to 72 hours after infection.
What are the Complications of Salmonella Infections?
In some people, the diarrhea may be so severe that they need to be hospitalized. In these patients, the Salmonella infection may spread from the intestines to the blood stream, and then to other body sites and can cause death unless the person is treated promptly with antibiotics.
Who is at Risk?
Children are the most likely to get salmonellosis. The rate of diagnosed infections in children less than five years old is higher than the rate in all other people. Children younger than five, the elderly, and those people with weakened immune systems are more likely to have severe infections. It is estimated that approximately 400 persons in the United States die each year with acute salmonellosis. Children, the elderly, pregnant women, and people with weakened immune systems should avoid eating raw sprouts of any kind.
What Do Restaurants and Retailers Need To Do?
Restaurants and retailers should not sell or utilize any sprouts from Sweetwater Farms, LLC. Restaurants and retailers should dispose of any alfalfa sprouts from Sweetwater Farms LLC. Restaurants and retailers should also be aware that produce may be a source of pathogens and should control the potential for cross-contamination of food processing equipment and the food processing environment. They should follow the steps below:
- Wash and sanitize display cases and refrigerators where potentially contaminated products were stored.
- Wash and sanitize cutting boards, surfaces, and utensils used to prepare, serve, or store potentially contaminated products.
- Wash hands with hot water and soap following the cleaning and sanitation process.
- Retailers, restaurants, and other food service operators who have processed and packaged any potentially contaminated products need to be concerned about cross contamination of cutting surfaces and utensils through contact with the potentially contaminated products.
- Regular frequent cleaning and sanitizing of food contact surfaces and utensils used in food preparation may help to minimize the likelihood of cross-contamination.
What Do Consumers Need To Do?
People should not eat any sprouts from Sweetwater Farms, LLC.
People who think they might have become ill from eating possibly contaminated alfalfa sprouts should talk to their health care providers. Like any fresh produce that is consumed raw or lightly cooked, sprouts that are served on salads, wraps, sandwiches, and other foods may contain bacteria that can cause foodborne illness. Unlike other fresh produce, the warm and humid conditions used for sprouting are also ideal for the growth of bacteria, including Salmonella, Listeria, and E. coli. Any bacteria present can multiply dramatically during the sprouting process. (Organic or locally-grown sprouts are not necessarily less risky, and neither are sprouts grown at home.) Washing sprouts may reduce risk, but will not eliminate it.
Consumers should always practice safe food handling and preparation measures. Wash hands, utensils, and surfaces with hot, soapy water before and after handling food.
For refrigerators and other food preparation surfaces and food cutting utensils that may have come in contact with the potentially contaminated sprouts, it is very important that the consumers thoroughly clean these areas and items.
Consumers should follow these simple steps:
- Wash the inside walls and shelves of the refrigerator, cutting boards and countertops; then sanitize them with a solution of one tablespoon of chlorine bleach to one gallon of hot water; dry with a clean cloth or paper towel that has not been previously used.
- Wash hands with warm water and soap for at least 20 seconds before and after handling food.
- Wipe up spills in the refrigerator immediately and clean the refrigerator regularly.
- Always wash hands with warm water and soap following the cleaning and sanitization process.
- Children, the elderly, pregnant women, and persons with weakened immune systems should avoid eating raw sprouts of any kind.
- Cooking sprouts thoroughly will kill any bacteria present and reduce the risk of illness.
- Persons who think they might have become ill from eating potentially contaminated sprouts should consult their health care provider.
- Consumers can request that raw sprouts not be added to food. If you purchase a sandwich or salad at a restaurant or delicatessen, and want to avoid sprouts, check to make sure that raw sprouts have not been added.