The first lawsuit stemming from a multi-state outbreak of Salmonella Saintpaul was filed today against CW sprouts in the Tenth District Court of Nebraska, Douglas County. The complaint was filed on behalf of Omaha resident Stephen Beumler, who is represented by Seattle foodborne illness law firm Marler Clark and by the Ausman Law firm of Omaha.
Stephen Beumler purchased a sandwich from the Council Bluffs Jimmy John’s restaurant on March 1, 2009. The sandwich contained alfalfa sprouts provided to the restaurant by CW Sprouts. Mr. Beumler began to feel ill that night, with nausea, cramping, and diarrhea. Believing he had the flu, Mr. Beumler rested and drank fluids, but his symptoms worsened to include muscle aches and intense fatigue. On Tuesday March 3 he was unable to go to work and his wife—a nurse—began to suspect that the illness was not flu. Mr. Beumler visited his doctor on Wednesday, and the samples he gave that day confirmed that he had been infected with the outbreak strain of Salmonella Saintpaul. Mr. Beumler required an additional five days of recovery before he was able to return to work.
The outbreak began in February 2009, as cases of Salmonella Saintpaul began to appear in Nebraska. In March, cases with the same genetic fingerprint were identified in South Dakota, Iowa, and Kansas. By interviewing the more than 120 people sickened in the outbreak, health authorities were able to link the illnesses to sprouts produced by CW Sprouts and distributed to retail outlets such as grocery stores and restaurants under the brand name Sunsprouts.
“Sprouts are often added to foods like salads or sandwiches and people aren’t always aware that they’re eating them,” said Beumler’s attorney, Drew Falkenstein. “This use is surprising, given that the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) document sprouts as being the number two vehicle for produce outbreaks, right behind leafy greens.”
The warm, moist environment used to grow sprouts is ideal for bacteria growth, and sprouts can play host to a number of different strains of Salmonella, as well as E. coli O157:H7. Bacteria on or in sprouts is difficult to detect, and most people do not wash or cook sprouts, which might kill or remove infectious bacteria.
In 1999, the FDA announced new guidelines for the growing of sprouts, including using calcium hypochlorite treatment on seeds. This treatment exposes seeds to high levels of chlorine, killing bacteria, but leaving seeds unharmed. Since its introduction, manufacturers who consistently use this seed disinfectant treatment have not been implicated in foodborne illness outbreaks; however not all producers have adopted the technique.