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Published May 01, 2009, 01:02 PM

FDA: Salmonella linked to raw alfalfa sprouts

The Minnesota Department of Agriculture and the Minnesota Department of Health have issued a consumer advisory urging Minnesotans to avoid eating raw alfalfa sprouts, including sprout blends containing alfalfa sprouts.

The Minnesota Department of Agriculture and the Minnesota Department of Health have issued a consumer advisory urging Minnesotans to avoid eating raw alfalfa sprouts, including sprout blends containing alfalfa sprouts.

The advisory echoes recent warnings from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) after food safety investigators linked raw alfalfa sprouts to cases of human illness involving Salmonella Saintpaul.

While the problem may be linked to contamination of seeds for alfalfa sprouts, an exact source for the infections has not been determined. Because suspect lots of seeds may be sold around the country and may account for a large proportion of the alfalfa seeds currently being used by sprout growers, and cases of illness are spread across multiple states, federal and state food safety officials are issuing general advisories to avoid all raw alfalfa sprouts and products containing raw alfalfa sprouts.

FDA will work with the alfalfa sprout industry to help identify which seeds and alfalfa sprouts are not connected with this contamination, so that this advisory can be changed as quickly as possible.

In Minnesota, the Minnesota Department of Health has reported four cases of illness with the outbreak strain of Salmonella Saintpaul. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also has reported 27 cases in five other states. Most of those who became ill reported eating raw alfalfa sprouts. Some reported eating raw sprouts at restaurants, while others reported purchasing the raw sprouts at the retail level.

Food safety officials generally recommend that those who are at higher 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 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.

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