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Salmonella Outbreak Traced to Alfalfa Sprouts

Margery Gibbs, Associated Press
March 3, 2009

Nebraska health officials say a recent outbreak of salmonella in eastern Nebraska and Iowa has been traced to locally grown alfalfa sprouts.

As of Tuesday, the Nebraska health department had confirmed 14 cases in Nebraska—eight in Douglas County, four in Sarpy and one each in Cass and Lancaster counties. Officials also have isolated four more probable cases.

There are 8 to 10 more cases of salmonella that are suspected from the same strain, Nebraska’s chief medical officer Joann Schaefer said during a Tuesday news conference.

A news release Tuesday from the Iowa Department of Public Health said five cases had been confirmed and at least four other cases are suspected from the salmonella St. Paul strain.

“They’re spread all across the state,” said Polly Carver-Kimm, a spokeswoman with the Iowa department. “The DNA fingerprint of the salmonella is the same as the Nebraska cases, and all of the people involved have similar exposure to alfalfa sprouts.”

Schaefer said she did not know whether states other than Nebraska and Iowa had been affected.

The Nebraska cases were reported from Feb. 2 to Feb. 23, Schaefer said.

The strain of salmonella isolated by health officials has been traced to CW Sprouts in Douglas County, she said. The sprouts were marketed as Sun Sprouts and went to restaurants and grocery stores.

Schaefer said the company has voluntarily recalled the sprouts.

A message left Tuesday by The Associated Press at a listing for Sun Sprouts in Omaha was not immediately returned.

While the health department recommended consumers wash all fruits and vegetables before consumption, Schaefer acknowledged that doing so likely would not have prevented the most recent outbreak.

Schaefer said officials believe the salmonella was probably within the alfalfa sprouts, and therefore, could not be washed off.

“The company does all sorts of washing procedures in its plant,” Schaefer said. “It’s state of the art. It’s probably one of the cleanest facilities we’ve seen.”

Salmonella poisoning can cause diarrhea, fever, dehydration, abdominal pain and vomiting. Most cases are caused by undercooked eggs and chicken.

About 40,000 cases are reported each year in the U.S., but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that the actual number of infections may be 30 times higher because many milder cases are not diagnosed or reported.

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