On August 5, 2016, the CDC announced that they are investigating an outbreak of Salmonella bacteria associated with Alfalfa sprouts. There have been 30 people sickened in the outbreak so far. These illnesses have onset dates between May 21 and July 20, 2016. There may be more than 30 illnesses in the outbreak, as it takes some time for the CDC to learn of other cases of illness. Victims may not have reported their illnesses yet to the CDC that began on or after July 12. Those sickened in the outbreak range in age between 1 year and 72 years. The median age of those sickened is 30. Five people required hospitalization because of their illnesses. There are two different strains of Salmonella associated with this outbreak. Twenty four people fell ill with Salmonella Reading. Salmonella Abony infected one person. Five people fell ill with both strains.

There have been 9 states involved in the outbreak. States affected by the outbreak include Colorado with 13 cases, Kansas with 8 cases, Minnesota with 1 case, Missouri with 1 case, Nebraska with 2 cases, New York with 1 case, Oregon withe 1 case, Texas with 1 case, and Wyoming with 2 cases. After learning of the outbreak, the CDC launched their investigation. They first conducted interviews with those sickened in the outbreak. Seventeen of those interviewed reported eating alfalfa sprouts prior to their illness. The CDC then, with the help of state and local health officials, performed a traceback investigation. Ill people reported eating at many different restaurants before they got sick, and 5 of these restaurants share a common supplier of alfalfa sprouts. This led investigators to pinpoint the source of the outbreak as Sprouts Extraordinaire.

When the investigation uncovered that Sprouts Extraordinaire was the source of the outbreak, the Denver, Colorado based company issued a voluntary recall. The CDC issued a recall on August 5, 2016. The CDC reports that the sprouts under recall were sold in 5 pound boxes, and they are labeled “Living Alfalfa Sprouts”. The CDC did not provide any other identifying information concerning the sprouts. The CDC had included all alfalfa sprout products produced by Sprouts Extraordinaire in the recall. Although the CDC has not yet released the information about the distribution of the products, they have recommended, however, that restaurants and retailers who have purchased alfalfa sprouts from Sprouts Extraordinaire should not sell or serve any recalled sprouts.

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Sprouts and sprout products have a higher risk of carrying foodborne illnesses than other vegetables. This is due to the fact that sprouts require a warm, humid environment in order to grow well. Warm and humid environments also happen to be where bacteria tend to thrive. Typically, cooks serve sprouts raw or lightly cooked, which increases the chance of infection. Because bacteria tend to grow on the seed of the sprout, it is difficult to remove all traces of them. There are methods that reduce the amount of bacteria present in sprout products, but none are 100% effective. The best way to prevent infection from sprouts is to cook the sprouts thoroughly, as heating kills bacteria.

Sprouts have an increased risk of contaminated by bacteria due to their origin, so there is a larger chance of them causing illnesses and outbreaks. There have been about 30 outbreaks caused by sprouts since 1996. Salmonella and E. coli caused the majority of these outbreaks. The latest major outbreak linked to alfalfa sprouts took place earlier this year. A different strain of Salmonella, Salmonella Muenchen, caused an early 2016 outbreak. The CDC investigation for that outbreak ended on May 13, 2016. By the end of the investigation, 26 people had been sickened in the outbreak, across 12 states. The illness hospitalized eight people because of the severity. The investigation was able to uncover that Sweetwater Farms, of Inman, Kansas, was the source of the outbreak. Sweetwater Farms recalled all of its sprout products after they heard of the outbreak.

Salmonella infections are one of the most common forms of foodborne illness. Health Officials first tracked Salmonella in 1962, but they first detected Salmonella long before that. Dr. Salmon first discovered the bacteria and its effects more than 125 years ago. The CDC estimates that Salmonella bacteria infects about 1.2 million people each year in the United States. This leads to the hospitalization of about 19,000 people each year. There are an estimated 450 deaths caused by Salmonella infections. There are many different strains of Salmonella bacteria, but all will cause illness in humans. The 32 different serotypes, or strains, of Salmonella bacteria help investigators pinpoint potential outbreaks, as well as their sources.

There are always people stricken by foodborne illnesses, but health officials have calculated an average incidence rate for each bacteria. When the number of infections reported increases rapidly and suddenly, it is an indicator to health officials that an outbreak is taking place. Health officials can then investigate the outbreak, usually by taking samples and by conducting interviews. There is sometimes a correlation between interview answers, which can help investigators locate a source. In this outbreak, investigators discovered that 17 of those sickened in the outbreak ate sprouts before their illness began. Although interviews can help locate potential sources, the best way for health officials to learn more about an outbreak is through the testing of samples. When medical providers retrieve samples from ill people or from the environment, the samples undergo testing to learn more about them. This type of testing reveals is the bacteria’s DNA fingerprint. This fingerprint, a solution of the process of pulsed field gel electrophoresis, is unique to the bacteria and strain involved in the outbreak. The DNA fingerprint is then uploaded to the PulseNet system. The PulseNet system is a database of DNA fingerprints maintained by the CDC. If a saved sample matches another sample, there may be a connection between the two. When multiple samples match through the PulseNet system, it is another clue to investigators about the origin and size of the outbreak.

A case of Salmonella poisoning will generally produce symptoms within 12 and 72 hours after infection. Usually, Salmonella infections will produce symptoms including vomiting, fever, abdominal cramping, and nausea. While a Salmonella infection may subside on its own within a week, the infection may worsen or cause severe dehydration. This may make hospitalization necessary. Those with certain risk factors, including the elderly, children, and those with suppressed immune systems may be at an increased risk of developing a serious Salmonella infection. If you or a loved one begin to show the symptoms of Salmonella poisoning, contact a medical professional.