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Alfalfa Sprouts Contaminated with Salmonella Typhimiriumis

Sep 8, 2008 | Parker Waichman LLP

Sprouters Northwest Inc. of Kent, Washington, has recalled alfalfa sprouts following a Salmonella outbreak in Oregon and Washington states.   The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) said the sprouts are likely linked to 13 cases of Salmonella Typhimirium infection.  The Washington State Health Department said nine illnesses were reported in Washington and four in Oregon; at least two people were hospitalized.

The tainted sprouts were sold in a variety of package sizes labeled "Alfalfa Sprouts" and were also sold as mixed alfalfa varieties containing alfalfa sprouts as an ingredient. The contaminated alfalfa sprouts were distributed to grocery stores and possibly some other retail outlets in Washington and Oregon.  The alfalfa sprouts were also used in Oregon and Washington.

The Salmonella Typhimiriumis is an organism that can cause serious and sometimes fatal infections in young children, frail or elderly people, and those with weakened immune systems.  Those who are healthy and infected with Salmonella Typhimiriumis often experience fever, diarrhea--which is sometimes bloody—nausea, vomiting, and abdominal pain.  Rarely, Salmonella infections can result in the bacteria invading the bloodstream and producing more severe illnesses such as arterial infections—infected aneurysm, endocarditis--swelling of the lining of the heart, and arthritis.   The Food & Drug Administration (FDA) warns that individuals who may have experienced any of these health symptoms after eating any of the recalled alfalfa spout products are encouraged to contact their health care provider.  Also, consumers who have purchased any of the alfalfa sprout items are urged to return such products to the place of purchase for a full refund.  Wholesalers and retailers should remove the product from sale, cease distribution, and arrange for product return; retailers or wholesalers are also asked to immediately discard or return any products from Sprouters Northwest that contain sprouts.

The first cases of the Salmonella poisoning were reported in early August, prior to the Salmonella source’s discovery.  Patients have reported illnesses as a result of the infected sprouts in Clark, Island, King, Pierce, Snohomish, Thurston, and Whatcom counties.  Health authorities believe that the contaminated alfalfa sprout product was probably transmitted from infective farm animals that were grazing in alfalfa fields, through fecal route.  Once a contaminated harvest comes in contact with processing machinery and harvests from other fields, the bacterium spreads easily in the moist and humid environment.

The issue with consuming raw sprouts is that 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.  Sprouts are usually eaten raw with no additional treatment, such as cooking, which eliminates bacteria that can cause disease and food borne illnesses.  Also, washing sprouts does not necessarily remove bacteria because bacteria grow within the sprouts, so the bacteria cannot be washed away.  Experts suggest that special care be taken when consuming fresh vegetables; cooking is suggest as that would better enable destruction of the bacteria.


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