A total of 13 people infected with the outbreak strain of Salmonella Muenchen were reported from four states. The number of ill people identified in each state is as follows: Kansas (5), Missouri (3), Oklahoma (3), and Pennsylvania (2).
Illnesses started on dates ranging from December 1, 2015 to January 21, 2016. Ill people range in age from 18 years to 73, with a median age of 51. Ninety-two percent of ill people are female. Among 13 ill people with available information, 5 reported being hospitalized, and no deaths have been reported.
Collaborative investigative efforts of state, local, and federal public health and regulatory officials indicate that alfalfa sprouts produced by Sweetwater Farms of Inman, Kansas are a likely source of this outbreak.
A total of 11 people infected with the outbreak strain of STEC O157 were reported from two states. The number of ill people identified in each state was as follows: Minnesota (8) and Wisconsin (3).
Collaborative investigative efforts of state, local, and federal public health and regulatory officials indicated that alfalfa sprouts produced by Jack & The Green Sprouts of River Falls, Wisconsin were the likely source of this outbreak.
And, it is not like these are isolated events – Barfblog does a great job of tracking sprout outbreak through 2012. Outbreak Database carries on through 2014. That is a lot of sick and dead people linked to a “health food.”
Perhaps it is time for FDA to require warnings on packaging of all raw sprouts? Perhaps the labeling could mirror the requirements now found on unpasteurized juices?
WARNING: This product may contain harmful bacteria that can cause serious illness in children, the elderly, and persons with weakened immune systems.
Or, perhaps a bit further?
As far back as September 1998, FDA issued a warning against sprouts urging:
Children, pregnant women and the elderly should not eat alfalfa sprouts until growers find a way to reduce the risk of a potentially deadly bacteria that infects some sprouts, the Food and Drug Administration said this week. The FDA, which is investigating sprout industry practices, said children, the elderly and people with weakened immune systems should avoid eating sprouts. The agency’s statement, issued Monday, repeated similar but little-noticed advice the U.S. Centers for Disease Control gave to doctors and researchers a year ago.
Here is the CDC warning:
Sprouts Not Healthy Food for Everyone
Children, the elderly, and persons whose immune systems are not functioning well should not eat raw sprouts, because current treatments of seeds and sprouts cannot get rid of all bacteria present.
Persons who are at high risk for complications from foodborne illness should probably not eat raw sprouts, according to an article in the current issue of Emerging Infectious Diseases, CDC’s peer-reviewed journal, which tracks new and reemerging infectious diseases worldwide.
Although sprouts are often considered a “health food,” the warm, humid conditions needed for growing sprouts from seeds are also ideal for bacteria to flourish. Salmonella, E. coli, and other bacteria can grow to high levels without affecting the appearance of the sprouts.
Researchers have treated both seeds and sprouts with heat or washed them in solutions of chlorine, alcohol, and other chemicals. Some of these disinfectants reduced the levels of bacteria, but a potential hazard remained, especially for persons with weak immune systems. High temperatures that would kill the bacteria on the seeds would also keep them from sprouting. Until an effective way is found to prevent illness from sprouts, they should be eaten with caution, if at all.
I think it is time for a warning label — past time.