The CDC has said that the outbreak has so far been linked to 35 reported illnesses across 7 states. It is the latest in a line of back-to-back high profile salmonella contamination scandals, including the outbreak caused by peanut products from the Peanut Corporation of America earlier this year, which led to 691 reported illnesses in 46 states. More recently, the FDA and CDC found salmonella in pistachios that had been distributed nationwide from California-based processor Setton Pistachio.
The joint FDA and CDC investigation into alfalfa sprouts has connected the outbreak with sprouts from multiple growers in several states and investigators have linked confirmed cases with eating raw sprouts at restaurants as well as those purchased directly from retailers.
“This suggests a potential problem with the seeds used, as well as the possible failure of the sprout growers involved to appropriately and consistently follow the FDA Sprout Guidance issued in 1999,” the FDA said.
The guidance outlines ways to minimize the spread of disease, including effective methods for disinfecting seeds, and a recommendation to regularly test the water used for growing sprouts for salmonella and E. coli contamination.
The FDA said that the latest outbreak appeared to be an extension of an earlier outbreak in 2009.
“This [earlier] outbreak was linked to raw alfalfa sprouts, and the outbreak strain was indistinguishable from that of these recently reported cases,” it said.
It added that the number of illnesses associated with alfalfa sprouts is likely to rise, as some illnesses are yet to be confirmed by laboratory testing.
‘Avoid all alfalfa’
The FDA and the CDC said that the outbreak’s link to several states is the reason it has chosen to issue such general advice to avoid all alfalfa sprouts. It added that other sprout varieties have not been implicated in the outbreak.
In this instance, the FDA has made its reasons clear for issuing sweeping guidance for avoiding all alfalfa sprouts, but in previous salmonella outbreaks it has come under fire for using too broad a brush. In the peanut contamination scandal, for example, the FDA initially issued consumer advice to avoid eating any peanut products, except retail brands of peanut butter, but amended it the next day, instead urging consumers to check its website for a list of affected products.
Executive director of the Western Pistachio Association Richard Matoian told FoodNavigator-USA.com after the pistachio contamination came to light that the FDA had learned from its experience in the peanut case, allowing it to deal better with the discovery of salmonella-tainted products at Setton Pistachio in March, and helping to protect both industry and consumers.