Salmonella outbreak sparks nationwide alfalfa sprout recall

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has announced an urgent nationwide recall of raw alfalfa sprouts blamed for a salmonella outbreak in 10 states that has sickened nearly two dozen people.

The alfalfa sprouts, which the FDA says are being recalled by Caldwell Fresh Foods of Maywood, Calif., were distributed to a variety of restaurants, delicatessens and retailers, including Trader Joe's and Wal-Mart. No other sprout producers have been implicated in the outbreak. Anyone who has purchased Caldwell Farms sprouts should return them to the place of purchase for a refund and disposal.

The recalled sprouts are labeled and packaged as follows:
  • Caldwell Fresh Foods: 4-ounce plastic cups and one-pound plastic bags, and 2-pound and 5-pound plastic bags in cardboard boxes with sticker affixed with the printed words "Caldwell Fresh Foods"
  • Nature's Choice: 4-ounce plastic cups
  • California Exotics brands: 5-ounce plastic clamshell containers
The recalled spouts have been linked to 22 cases of Salmonella infections in Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Illinois, Missouri, New Mexico, Nevada, Oregon, and Wisconsin. Between March 1 and May 20, six consumers were hospitalized, but no deaths were reported. Some patients ate the tainted spouts at restaurants, while others bought them at retail outlets. The majority of cases have been reported in California (11), with 2 cases in Wisconsin and Nevada, and one each in the remaining states.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) , most people infected with Salmonella develop diarrhea, fever, and abdominal cramps12–72 hours after infection. The illness usually lasts 4 to 7 days. Although most people recover without treatment, severe infections can occur among infants, the elderly, and those with weakened immune systems. The FDA advises consumers who experience these symptoms to seek medical attention.

The FDA warns that children, the elderly, pregnant women and those with weakened immune systems should avoid eating raw sprouts of any kind (including alfalfa, clover, radish, and mung bean sprouts). Consumers should also cook sprouts thoroughly to reduce the risk of illness and avoid raw sprouts when ordering sandwiches or salads at restaurants or delicatessens. More information for consumers about the risks associated with eating sprouts is available in the FDA Sprout Guidance.

There have been at least 30 outbreaks of foodborne illness associated with various types of raw and lightly cooked sprouts since 1996, most of which were caused by Salmonella and E. coli. Of course, sprouts are hardly the only culprit when it comes to fears of Salmonella poisoning, as demonstrated in recalls of dry milk, granola bars and most recently, a whole host of products, including potato salads, dips and onion rings.

The FDA is investigating the outbreak with the CDC, the California Department of Public Health, and public health agencies in other affected states. The FDA and the California Department of Public Health are inspecting the Caldwell Fresh Foods facility and collecting samples. A joint investigation between state and local health departments and the CDC traced the Salmonella outbreak to Caldwell Fresh Foods, which is cooperating with the investigation.

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