California Issues Salmonella Warning for Wo Chong Sprouts

The California Department of Public Health (CDPH) has issued a warning to consumers against eating Wo Chong brand alfalfa and clover sprouts because they may be contaminated with the dangerous, and sometimes deadly, <"">Salmonella pathogen.

With sprouts, as we have previously written, there exist some unique challenges not present in other foodborne contaminations. Because sprouts can become tainted prior to harvesting, when growing, the contagion cannot be washed away and actually colonizes within the food. Of importance, because sprouts are often eaten raw with no additional treatment, such as cooking, which eliminates bacteria, washing sprouts does not necessarily remove bacteria. Also, the conditions required for sprout growing are optimal for growing pathogens: Bacteria need the right temperature, nutrients, and water and sprouts grow in watery, warm environments, ideal for rapid bacterial growth.

Routine laboratory testing of Wo Chong sprouts were found contaminated with Salmonella, said the CDPH. “Consumers, especially infants, young children and the elderly, are susceptible to serious infection when exposed to Salmonella,” said Dr. Mark Horton, director of CDPH. “Today’s warning is part of our ongoing efforts to ensure the safety of foods sold in California,” Dr. Horton added.

The Wo Chong sprouts are packaged in four-ounce plastic containers and one-pound plastic bags. The four-ounce plastic containers are labeled with either a green or red two-inch round sticker. The green stickers have the words “Alfalfa Sprouts” in the center and the red stickers have the words “Clover Sprouts” in the center. “Wo Chong Co., Inc.” and UPC codes are listed on the bottom of the stickers. The UPC code for alfalfa sprouts is 027862000108. The UPC code for clover spouts is 027862003017. The one-pound plastic bags have three-inch square labels with “Clover Sprouts” in red letters and a circular blue Wo Chong symbol in the upper left corner on the front of the bag.

No illnesses have been reported from these products, but alfalfa and clover sprouts have previously been linked to outbreaks of Salmonella and E. coli O157 infections and consumers who purchased these specific products should immediately discard them or return them to the point of purchase for a refund, said the CDPH.

Salmonella, the most prevalent foodborne pathogen in this country, is an organism that can cause serious and sometimes fatal infections in young children, frail or elderly people, and others with weakened immune systems. Infection with Salmonella can result in the organism getting into the bloodstream and producing more severe illnesses such as arterial infections (i.e., infected aneurysms), endocarditis, and arthritis.

Salmonella poisoning can also lead to Reiter’s Syndrome, a difficult-to-treat reactive arthritis characterized by severe joint pain, irritation of the eyes, and painful urination. Some Salmonella bacteria are antibiotic resistant, largely due to the use of antibiotics to promote the growth of feed animals.
We recently wrote that a report from the Produce Safety Project found that foodborne illnesses are cost the U.S. $152 billion annually with one-quarter—$39 billion—the result of foodborne illnesses associated with fresh, canned and processed produce. According to the federal government, 76 million people each year come down with some form of food poisoning; hundreds of thousands are hospitalized and about 5,000 die.

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