The Food and Drug Administration recommends that consumers not eat raw alfalfa sprouts or combinations of sprouts that include alfalfa due to potential contamination with Salmonella Saintpaul.
The Centers for Disease Control, working with the FDA and state health departments, have identified 31 cases of illness traced to alfalfa sprouts in six different states since mid-March. All either ate sprouts in a restaurant or bought them in retail stores.
Because the outbreak is widespread, the FDA suspects the problem may be in the seeds used for sprouting and how they are handled.
Previously, the FDA offered the following advice to all consumers concerning sprouts:
- Cook all sprouts thoroughly before eating to significantly reduce the risk of illness.
- Sandwiches and salads purchased at restaurants and delicatessens often contain raw sprouts. Consumers who wish to reduce their risk of foodborne illness should specifically request that raw sprouts not be added to their food.
- Homegrown sprouts also present a health risk if eaten raw or lightly cooked. Many outbreaks have been attributed to contaminated seed. If pathogenic bacteria are present in or on seed, they can grow to high levels during sprouting even under clean conditions.
Cancer patients, particularly those receiving chemotherapy, may be at increased risk for serious problems if they get sick from food contaminated with Salmonella. The FDA recommends avoiding raw sprouts completely for people with compromised immune systems.
The CDC and FDA recommend at all times that persons at high risk for complications, such as the elderly, young children, and those with compromised immune systems, not eat raw sprouts because of the risk of contamination with Salmonella or other bacteria. Salmonella is an organism that can cause serious and sometimes fatal infections in young children, frail or elderly people, and others with weakened immune systems. Healthy individuals infected with Salmonella often experience fever, diarrhea (which may be bloody), nausea, vomiting and abdominal pain. In rare circumstances, infection with Salmonella can result in the organism getting into the bloodstream and producing more severe illnesses, such as meningitis and bone infections.