Between February and March of 2009, 235 people in 14 states became ill with Salmonella Saintpaul infections, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). CDC and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have advised consumers to stay away from all raw sprouts, as the contamination appears to be in the seeds, which are sold nationwide.
Washing sprouts that have been grown from tainted seeds does not remove the contamination, health officials say. The warning applied only to alfalfa sprouts. Other types of sprouts (such as bean sprouts) have not been affected.
The FDA issued the following information regarding the withdrawal of sprout seeds by Caudill, an Italian seed producer:
All seeds involved in this market withdrawal came from Italy. The seeds are in 50-pound white bags that are either paper or woven from a synthetic material, and the lot numbers in question begin with “032,” followed by a hyphen and three more digits. The bags carry a computer-generated white or yellow label, on which is printed “Distributed by Caudill Seed Company., 1402 W. Main St., Louisville KY 40203” and the lot number.
According to the CDC, sprouts are the number two vehicle for produce outbreaks, right behind leafy greens. There have been at least 33 outbreaks tied to sprouts in the last 20 years, sickening thousands.
Sprouts are often called a ‘stealth’ vehicle for infection because people aren’t always aware that they’re eating them. They can be added to salads or sandwiches and hardly noticed.
Sprout contamination can occur in many ways. Animals grazing in alfalfa fields can contaminate the harvest, and then machinery used on a contaminated field can spread that contamination as other fields are harvested and processed. Once seeds from different fields are mixed, contamination can spread to other batches, and as seeds are ‘scarred’ or rubbed to crack them, bacteria can enter the seed itself.
Marler Clark filed three lawsuits on behalf of victims of this Salmonella outbreak traced to contaminated alfalfa sprouts.