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Nebraska Salmonella Linked to Alfalfa Sprouts

Mar 4, 2009 | Parker Waichman LLP The mysterious Nebraska salmonella outbreak that sickened 14 women—hospitalizing two—earlier this week has been expanded to now include 24 people.  When first reported, the source of the salmonella was unknown and the strain was unfamiliar to experts working on the case.  Now, the Associated Press (AP) is breaking with news that alfalfa sprouts are the source the outbreak.

According to the AP, the Sunsprouts brand sprouts were distributed by CW Sprouts of Omaha and sold at grocery stores and restaurants; all of the product has been recalled.  Now, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is investigating what, if anything, contributed to the contamination at the plant, said the AP; however, investigators are looking at if the sprouts were contaminated prior, saying of the location that it is "one of the cleanest facilities we've seen."

As we have reported in the past and as the AP explained, sprouts can become tainted with salmonella prior to harvesting, when they are growing. 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.

The AP reported that of the 24 salmonella cases, 14 are confirmed, four are considered probable, and eight-to-10 other cases are considered suspect.  Also, five cases of salmonella poisoning have been confirmed in Iowa by health officials there who say that the strain is Salmonella Saintpaul, which is the same as the salmonella strain spreading in Nebraska, reported the AP.

The salmonella pathogen can cause serious, sometimes fatal salmonellosis infections in young children and weak or elderly people.  Healthy people may experience fever, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, and abdominal pain, if infected.  Without treatment, severe cases of Salmonella can result in death; however, some Salmonella bacteria are resistant to antibiotics, largely due to the use of antibiotics to promote the growth of feed animals.

Salmonella is usually found in food contaminated with animal feces and is a group of bacteria that passes from the feces of people or animals to other people or animals, causing contamination when food is improperly stored or handled and when preparers do not wash their hands or sanitize implements involved in food storage.

In a prior report, KETV7 said officials in Nebraska sent samples of the salmonella strain to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and have issued an all points bulletin to other states’ health departments.  The illnesses all originated from the same strain which is identical in serotype to the outbreak that was linked to tomatoes and jalapeno peppers this summer, but which is different from the massive salmonella contamination involving peanuts and peanut products linked to Peanut Corporation of America.

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