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Sprouts Again Linked to Salmonella Outbreak, This Time in Michigan

Oct 12, 2009 | Parker Waichman LLP Another outbreak of salmonella poisoning has been linked to alfalfa sprouts. This time, the contamination has sickened one dozen people in the state of Michigan. The Associated Press (AP) also reported that the outbreak has resulted in at least two hospitalizations, to date.

According to the AP, the Michigan Departments of Agriculture and Community Health released a public-health alert late last week warning residents in that state to stay away from raw alfalfa sprouts until it can be determined how the outbreak originated. According to officials involved in the outbreak investigation, the 12 cases reported thus far have been of Salmonella Typhimurium and have been confirmed in Bay, Genesee, Kent, Macomb, Oakland, Washtenaw, and Wayne counties, said the AP. It seems as if the outbreak began August 17 and September 18.

Some Salmonella bacteria are resistant to antibiotics, largely due to the use of antibiotics to promote the growth of feed animals. In the case of Salmonella Typhimurium, a relatively uncommon strain of the dangerous, sometimes deadly pathogen, and according to a PubMed (a service of the U.S. National Library of Medicine and the National Institutes of Health) statement previously, Salmonella Typhimurium strains are commonly resistant to an array of popular antibiotics such as ampicillin, chloramphenicol, streptomycin, sulfonamides, and tetracycline.

With sprouts, as we have previously written, there exist some unique challenges not present in other food borne contaminations. Because sprouts can become tainted prior to harvesting, when growing, the contagion cannot be washed away and 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.

Salmonella is an organism 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. In rare circumstance, 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 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. Salmonella is the most frequently reported cause of food-related outbreaks of stomach illness worldwide.

Salmonella poisoning can lead to Reiter’s Syndrome, a difficult-to-treat reactive arthritis characterized by severe joint pain, irritation of the eyes, and painful urination.

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