Alfalfa Sprouts Linked to 2 Outbreaks of Food Poisoning

Alfalfa Sprouts Linked to 2 Outbreaks of Food Poisoning
Food Safety Contamination

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said Thursday that 9 people in Minnesota and Wisconsin had been diagnosed with E. coli poisoning, including 2 individuals who had to be hospitalized, but have since recovered. The source of the outbreak has been traced back to alfalfa sprouts from Jack & The Green Sprouts in River Falls, Wisconsin.

The CDC said in an announcement:

“Of the 8 people who were interviewed, all 8 reported eating or possibly eating alfalfa sprouts in the week before illness started.”

Patients first began reporting symptoms on January 17, with symptoms most recently being reported on February 8. Those who fell ill range in age from 17 to 84, and 62% of them are women. [1]

Health officials are concerned that some packages of the alfalfa sprouts might still be on store shelves. Jack & The Green Sprouts distributes the sprouts in the upper Midwest, and, according to health officials, “possibly other states.”

Amy Saupe, a foodborne illness epidemiologist:

“Sprouts have a longer shelf life than you might expect. We’re concerned that these alfalfa sprouts may still be out there in stores or people’s homes.”

DNA tests show all 9 individuals were infected with the same strain of E. coli. The Minnesota health department said in a warning:

“The seven Minnesota cases and at least one of the Wisconsin cases were exposed to implicated alfalfa sprouts from a variety of locations, including grocery/cooperative stores, restaurants, salad bars and commercial food service.” [2]

(Photo courtesy of Minnesota Department of Health)
(Photo courtesy of Minnesota Department of Health)

Alfalfa sprouts are also being blamed for an outbreak of salmonella that has sickened 13 people across 4 states. The CDC and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced Monday that the 2 agencies are investigating the multi-state outbreak, which has been linked to sprouts produced by Sweetwater Farms of Inman, Kansas.

Photograph: University of Maryland

The company issued a voluntary recall of the affected alfalfa sprouts after both irrigation water and alfalfa sprout samples tested positive for Salmonella muenchen. Affected states include Kansas, Oklahoma, Missouri, and Pennsylvania.

As you might expect, health officials are warning people not to eat any sprouts produced by the company. Alfalfa sprouts are known carriers of foodborne illness. Since 1998, there have been at least 49 foodborne illness outbreaks, including 24 multistate outbreaks, and 1,737 illnesses linked to sprouts, according to a tally kept by Colorado State University.

The CDC says that children, the elderly, pregnant women, and individuals with weakened immune systems should avoid eating raw sprouts, and that people can decrease their risk of illness by requesting that they not be added to your their food.

Alfalfa sprouts require warmth and humidity to grow. Unfortunately, those are the same conditions in which foodborne pathogens thrive. Sprout growers have special requirements that they must follow, which the FDA set up under the Food Modernization and Safety Act. The agency also helped launch the Sprout Safety Alliance with the Institute for Food Safety and Health at the Illinois Institute of Technology.

Read: FDA Finalizes Rules Designed to Prevent Food Poisoning Outbreaks

Some grocers, including Kroger and Wal-Mart, no longer sell alfalfa sprouts due to the risk of food poisoning associated with them. [3]


[1] CNN

[2] Food Safety News

[3] NPR

University of Maryland