Ecoli Outbreak Linked to Earlier Sprout Outbreak

E. Coli, Alfalfa Sprouts – USA (Virginia)

August 8, 1997



Seeds apparently contaminated with the deadly bacteria were shipped to Krisp-Pak, a produce distributor located off Colley Avenue in Norfolk. Seeds from the same lot were shipped to Michigan, which also suffered an outbreak of the disease linked to sprouts.


And, with health officials continuing to monitor E. coli O157:H7 cases, they think this outbreak may be over.


Laboratory tests have yet to find any contamination on the suspected lot of seeds. But that’s not surprising, said Jenkins. There never has been an E. coli O157:H7 outbreak linked to alfalfa sprouts, and scientists have no reliable way to identify the bacteria on either the sprouts or the seeds.


Health officials routinely get reports of E. coli O157:H7 infection. But when the numbers spiked in June, they suspected that some cases came from a common source.


Out of 47 E. Coli O157:H7 cases reported for June and July [in Virginia], at least 20 are likely related to contaminated sprouts. No one has died, although more than a dozen people have been hospitalized. At least 11 of those hospitalized had the strain of E. coli linked to the sprouts.


She [Jenkins] said the seeds wouldn’t seem a likely spot for E. coli since they’re so dry. However, it’s possible that there was a very small amount of contamination and that the bacteria flourished when water was added to make the seeds sprout, she said.


But Battaglia objects to the health department’s conclusion, since tests can’t find the bacteria.


An outbreak investigation revealed a majority of those who got sick with this strain had eaten alfalfa sprouts, while few people who had not gotten sick had eaten them. The sprouts were traced back to Krisp-Pak.


I wonder whether either of the statements concerning the absence of an E. coli link to sprouts and the inability to test sprouts are true? Wasn’t the E. coli outbreak inJapan in Aug. 1996 partially linked to contaminated radish sprout seeds? Why would sprouts and seeds be any harder to test than any other substrate?


[We have certainly been reminded that E. coli is a ubiquitious disease agent. In the past 12 months alone we have seen E. coli links to fruit juice, vegetables and maybe even muddy pastures. Mod. pc]