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Another Salad Staple Linked to Illness and Recalled

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Earlier this month, federal authorities found lettuce caused an outbreak of E. coli and now have linked alfalfa sprouts to an outbreak of Salmonella infections.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced that Caldwell Fresh Foods of Maywood, CA is recalling all of its alfalfa sprouts marketed under the Caldwell Fresh Foods, Nature’s Choice and California Exotics brands because the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has linked it to an outbreak of Salmonella in ten states. So far, authorities have confirmed 22 cases, six of which required hospitalization. One of those infected was an infant hospitalized in Oregon, reports CNN. Those who contracted the infection reported eating the sprouts at restaurants or purchased from retail stores.

Salmonella is a bacterium that can cause serious and sometimes fatal infections in young children, frail or elderly people and others with weakened immune systems. Healthy persons infected with Salmonella often experience fever, diarrhea (which may be bloody), nausea, vomiting and abdominal pain. Consumers who are experiencing these symptoms should seek medical attention.

Caldwell distributed the recalled sprouts to a variety of restaurants, delicatessens and retailers, including Trader Joe’s and Wal-Mart stores. Consumers and restaurant and delicatessen operators should not purchase, eat or use raw sprouts from Caldwell Fresh Foods and should return the recalled sprouts to the place of purchase for a refund and disposal.

This recall affects raw alfalfa sprouts packaged and labeled as:

  • Caldwell Fresh Foods – 4-ounce plastic cups and one-pound plastic bags, and 2-pound and 5-pound plastic bags in cardboard boxes with sticker affixed with the printed words “Caldwell Fresh Foods”
  • Nature’s Choice – 4-ounce plastic cups
  • California Exotics brands – 5-ounce plastic clamshell containers

The FDA has long known that sprouts easily host these bacteria. Enough so that the FDA issued a Guidance on October 27, 1999 entitled, Guidance for Industry: Reducing Microbial Food Safety Hazards For Sprouted Seeds recommending agricultural practices in all stages of production to reduce the likelihood of food borne pathogens, including the microbiological testing prior to market.

“All parties involved in the production of sprouts — seed producers, seed conditioners, and distributors, and sprout producers — should be aware that seeds and sprouted seeds have been recognized as an important cause of food borne illness,” the Guidance says.

Children, the elderly, pregnant women, and persons with weakened immune systems should never eat raw sprouts of any kind, including alfalfa, clover, radish, and mung bean sprouts. See more sprout safety tips from Foodsafety.gov.

Earlier this month, an outbreak of E. coli linked to bagged shredded lettuce caused an outbreak of illness across four states. According to an article in The Washington Post, there are twenty-three confirmed cases of illness and possibly seven more. Of these, twelve individuals were hospitalized, including three with a potentially life threatening complication called hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS). HUS is a serious condition in which alters the body’s blood-clotting mechanisms, causing blocked circulation or bleeding in the brain or kidneys.

Michael Doyle, a microbiologist who directs the Center for Food Safety at the University of Georgia told The Washington Post that one common mode of contamination comes from the initial processing by removing the outer lettuce leaves in the field where cutting utensils contact the soil and spread contamination from the dirt to the crop.

Tracing the contamination back to a certain field or grower is unlikely with these bagged lettuce products. Produce companies mix crops from many sources during the harvesting, chopping and bagging process.