WASHINGTON The U.S. Food and Drug Administration last week advised consumers to stop eating raw alfalfa sprouts and blends containing them until further notice because of possible salmonella Saintpaul contamination.
The advisory, overshadowed in some media coverage by the H1N1 flu outbreak, was issued after public health authorities linked consumption of such products in restaurants and homes to 31 illnesses in six states, the FDA said.
According to officials at the Washington-based FDA, an investigation indicates that the problem may be linked to contamination of seeds for alfalfa sprouts. They said they and their counterparts at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta are advising people to halt all consumption of raw alfalfa sprouts because suspect lots of seeds may have been sold nationwide and may account for a large proportion of the seeds now being used by growers.
Illnesses related to the salmonella Saintpaul outbreak in Michigan, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Utah and West Virginia were first detected in mid-March, but were still being reported as recently as April 26. The FDA said the latest salmonella Saintpaul outbreak “appears to be an extension” of one detected in February and early March in Nebraska, South Dakota, Iowa, Kansas and Minnesota.
The FDA said it would work with the alfalfa sprout industry to help identify which seeds and alfalfa sprouts are not connected with this contamination, so that it can update its advisory as quickly as possible.
CDC and FDA officials long have recommended that people at risk for complications, such as the elderly, young children and those with compromised immune systems, not eat raw sprouts because of the risk of contamination with salmonella or other bacteria. Such individuals risk serious and sometimes fatal infections from the bug, which may cause healthy people to suffer from fever, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting and abdominal pain, those agencies said.
Aseparate outbreak of listeria monocytogenes infections was also linked to sprouts this year, the FDA said.
Anumber of pathogen outbreaks in the 1990s related to sprouts, including some that prompted restaurant chains, such as Carl’s Jr., to stop using raw sprouts on some menu items, led the FDA to issue production safety guidance to growers that the regulatory body said greatly reduces the likelihood of salmonella contamination.