Sprouts Infected Thousands in Late 1990s

Sprouts Infected Thousands in Late 1990s
Monday August 20 5:24 PM ET

Raw sprouts can be hazardous to your health, investigators warn. Sprouts from contaminated alfalfa and clover seeds were responsible for a series of outbreaks of gastrointestinal illness and urinary tract infections in the late 1990s, according to researchers at the California Department of Health and the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia.

“Ascurrently produced, sprouts can be a hazardous food. Seeds can be contaminatedbefore sprouting, and no method can eliminate all (disease-causing organisms)from seeds,” Dr. Janet C. Mohle-Boetani of the Division of Communicable DiseaseControl in Berkeley, California, and colleagues report in the August 21st issueof the Annals of Internal Medicine.

Theresearch team recommends that seed and sprout growers make efforts to reducecontamination, and that people with weak immune systems avoid sproutsaltogether.

Mohle-Boetaniand her colleagues investigated five outbreaks of salmonellosis and one outbreakof E. coli O157 that occurred in California between 1996 and 1998. During thisperiod, half of all disease outbreaks in the state that crossed county lineswere associated with alfalfa or clover sprouts.

Theinvestigators confirmed infections in 600 people and estimate that approximately22,800 people suffered gastrointestinal illness or urinary tract infectionsrelated to sprouts. The outbreaks killed two people.

Alfalfaand clover seeds are a raw agricultural product that may come in contact withSalmonella or E. coli from the feces of birds, rodents or other animals duringgrowth, harvest, processing, storage or shipping, the authors explain. Theseillness-causing microbes thrive during the process of seed germination andactual plant growth, they add.

“Mostconsumers and retailers do not cook sprouts, and since bacteria on the seedsurface can become internalized during sprouting, washing sprouts is probably anineffective way to eliminate (any disease-causing microbes),” Mohle-Boetani andcolleagues warn.

Salmonellainfects the gastrointestinal system, causing cramps, nausea, vomiting, diarrheaand fever. In rare cases, Salmonella food poisoning can lead to serious,sometimes fatal, complications in small children, the elderly or those withweakened immune systems.

E.coli O157:H7 infection often causes severe bloody diarrhea and abdominal cramps.Children younger than 5 years of age and elderly people are particularlyvulnerable to a complication of infection with the bacterium called hemolyticuremic syndrome, in which red blood cells are destroyed and the kidneys fail.

SOURCE: Annals of Internal Medicine 2001;135:239-247.