Salmonella outbreak linked to alfalfa sprouts

A salmonella outbreak in eastern Nebraska has been preliminarily linked to alfalfa sprouts from an Omaha grower.

Cases in Iowa also have been tied to the outbreak.

The U.S Food and Drug Administration is investigating the company, CW Sprouts, to determine conditions that may have led to the contaminated sprouts.

The company has stopped shipping the sprouts and is doing a voluntary recall, Dr. Joann Schaefer, Nebraska's chief medical officer, said today.

"We're just taking every precaution and we're just working in close proximity with health officials. And everything is still preliminary at this point," said Chris Wulf, a spokesman for the sprouts company.

Schaefer said the sprouts, marketed as Sunsprouts, went to restaurants and grocery stores.

She said the FDA has not determined if any of the sprouts are still available at grocery stores or still served at restaurants. The cases occurred between Feb. 2 and 23.

Schaefer said if consumers are worried about salmonella, they should avoid eating sprouts if they don't know where they came from.

In Nebraska, there were 14 lab-confirmed cases tied to the outbreak, most in Douglas County. Two people were hospitalized and there have been no deaths. There are four other probable cases and eight to 10 suspected cases.

Schaefer said the number of lab-confirmed cases could grow.

The same strain of bacteria caused all of the cases so far.

The Iowa, cases match the DNA fingerprint of those in Nebraska, said Dr. Ann Garvey of the Iowa Department of Public Health.

There are five confirmed cases in that state and four pending. One person was hospitalized but has recovered.

Nebraska had more than 200 confirmed cases of salmonella each of the past two years. Most were unrelated.

The state does get several outbreaks per year. Those cases usually can be traced to a restaurant, church potluck or some other common source.

Health officials do not believe the current cases are part of the national salmonella outbreak tied to peanut products. Those cases were caused by a different strain.

Salmonella poisoning usually stems from people eating food contaminated with animal feces, according the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.