Salmonella Sprouts Now Suspected in 125 Illnesses

The <"">Salmonella outbreak linked to alfalfa sprouts has spread to 22 states, and at least 125 people have been infected, according to Centers for Disease Control’s (CDC) latest update. The Salmonella cases were reported between 1, 2010, through January 11, 2011. Results of the CDC’s investigation indicate a link to eating Tiny Greens Alfalfa Sprouts or Spicy Sprouts at Jimmy John’s restaurant outlets, the agency said.

Among persons with available information, 24 percent reported being hospitalized. No deaths have been reported. Salmonella cases have been reported in the following states: Arkansas (1), California (1), Colorado (1), Connecticut (1), District of Columbia (1), Georgia (1), Hawaii (1), Iowa (1), Illinois (65), Indiana (12), Kentucky (1), Massachusetts (2), Missouri (22), Nebraska (1), Nevada (1), New York (1), Oregon (1), Pennsylvania (3), South Carolina (1), South Dakota (1), Tennessee (2), Virginia (1), and Wisconsin (3).

The CDC has tied the Salmonella outbreak to consumption of Tiny Greens Alfalfa Sprouts or Spicy Sprouts (which contain alfalfa sprouts mixed with radish and clover sprouts). The sprouts were distributed to various customers, including farmers’ markets, restaurants, and groceries in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, and Missouri and may also have been distributed to other Midwestern states. Approximately half of the illnesses occurred in Illinois, where many of the ill individuals ate sandwiches containing sprouts at various Jimmy John’s outlets.

Last week, Jimmy John’s announced it was permanently removing alfalfa sprouts from in menu in the wake of the Salmonella outbreak. Instead, customers will now be offered clover sprouts, which the chain maintains are easier to clean than the alfalfa variety.

However, as we reported last week, food safety experts say clover sprouts pose many of the same hazards as alfalfa sprouts. For instance, just this month, Sprouters Northwest, Inc. of Kent, Washington, issued a recall of its clover and clover mix products because of possible Salmonella contamination. Those clover sprouts may be linked to an outbreak in Oregon and Washington State. Health officials have confirmed nine cases in the two states; eight reported eating sprouts. Two of the nine said they’d eaten clover sprouts at a Jimmy John’s in Bend, Oregon.

As we’ve reported in the past, sprouts present a unique food poisoning challenge in that they can become tainted prior to harvesting, when growing. 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. Because sprouts are often eaten raw with no additional treatment, such as cooking, which eliminates bacteria, washing sprouts does not necessarily remove bacteria because bacteria grow within the sprouts and cannot be washed away. Over the past 15 years, at least 30 outbreaks of food poisoning have been associated with eating raw or lightly cooked sprouts, according to the U.S. Food & Drug Administration.

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