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Marler Blog Providing Commentary on Food Poisoning Outbreaks & Litigation

Investigation of an Outbreak of Salmonella Saintpaul Infections Linked to Raw Alfalfa Sprouts – Whose Seeds are They? Why No Recall Of Seeds?

The CDC reports that since mid-March, 35 persons infected with the outbreak strain of Salmonella Saintpaul have been reported from 7 states. The number of ill persons identified in each state is as follows: Michigan (17), Minnesota (4), Ohio (3), Pennsylvania (6), South Dakota (2), Utah (1), and West Virginia (2). Cases are still being reported, and possible cases are in various stages of laboratory testing, so illnesses may be reported from other states. No deaths have been reported.  State and local authorities, CDC, and FDA have linked this outbreak to eating alfalfa sprouts. Most of those who became ill reported eating raw alfalfa sprouts. Some reported eating sprouts at restaurants; others purchased sprouts at the retail level.

The initial investigation has traced the contaminated raw alfalfa sprouts to multiple sprout growers in multiple states. This suggests a problem with the seeds used, as well as the possible failure of the sprout growers involved to appropriately and consistently follow the FDA Sprout Guidance issued in 1999.  The guidance recommends an effective seed disinfection treatment immediately before the start of sprouting (such as treating seeds in a 20,000 parts per million calcium hypochlorite solution with agitation for 15 minutes) and regularly testing the water used for every batch of sprouts for Salmonella and E coli O157:H7.

This outbreak appears to be an extension of an earlier outbreak in 2009. In February and March, an outbreak of Salmonella Saintpaul infections occurred in Nebraska, South Dakota, Iowa, Kansas, and Minnesota. This outbreak was linked to raw alfalfa sprouts produced at a single facility, and the outbreak strain was indistinguishable from that of the more recently reported cases. CDC is also currently working with public health officials in several states and FDA to investigate an outbreak of Listeria monocytogenes infections linked with eating alfalfa sprouts.

So, where did the seeds come from, and why not a recall of seeds?