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Alfalfa sprouts linked to Salmonella infections in Australia 

More than 20 cases of Salmonella infection have been reported in South Australia with a link to alfalfa sprouts.

Health officials say the Salmonella Havana outbreak has led to 21 illnesses and seven hospitalizations. The implicated alfalfa sprouts came from SA Sprouts in Adelaide. They were sold at Drakes Foodland, IGA and numerous greengrocers in South Australia.

Professor Paddy Phillips, South Australia’s chief medical officer and chief public health officer, advised anyone who had purchased the recalled alfalfa sprouts to return them to the place of purchase for a refund or throw them away.

“We also want to alert cafes and restaurants to check their suppliers and not serve any SA Sprouts brand alfalfa sprout products until further notice. We are working closely with the producer and suppliers while we continue to investigate,” the health agency reported.

Consumers can identify the recalled alfalfa sprouts by looking for the following label and packaging information:

  • alfalfa sprouts in 125-gram and 200-gram tubs, 1-kilogram bags;
  • green alfalfa sprouts in 125-gram tubs;
  • alfalfa and radish sprouts in 125-gram tubs;
  • alfalfa and onion sprouts in 125-gram tubs;
  • alfalfa and mustard in 125-gram tubs;
  • alfalfa and Chinese cabbage in 125-gram tubs;
  • alfalfa and garlic in 125-gram tubs;
  • salad mix in 175-gram tubs; and
  • gourmet sprouts in 100-gram trio packs with alfalfa, snow pea, small sprouted beans.

There have been 751 cases of Salmonella infection reported to SA Health this year compared to 829 at the same time last year and 1,432 for 2017.

People can experience symptoms of infection between six and 72 hours after exposure and symptoms usually last for three to seven days.

Dr. Rietie Venter, head of microbiology in the School of Pharmacy and Medical Sciences at the University of South Australia, said the origin of the contamination had not been determined but could have been from the water used for irrigation, manure or the soil itself. 

“However, Salmonella could also grow inside the food or could have survived the washing procedure. Fruit and vegetables that are consumed raw then pose a particular danger of causing infection,” Venter said.

Tom Ross, associate professor of food microbiology in the Centre for Food Safety and Innovation at the University of Tasmania, said scientists and industry continue to look at ways to safely sprout seeds without encouraging the growth of Salmonella.

“The techniques that could fully eliminate Salmonella can also damage the seeds used for sprouting so that they don’t produce sprouts,” Ross said. “During the sprouting process Salmonella can increase in number, increasing the risk to consumers of getting an infection.”

Rachelle Williams, chair of the Food Safety Information Council, said most seed sprouts are consumed raw, so they do not receive heat treatment that would kill pathogens. 

“A 2005 Salmonella outbreak in Western Australia of 125 cases was linked to alfalfa sprouts, and a 2006 Salmonella outbreak of 15 cases in Victoria was linked to alfalfa sprouts,” she said. 

“Washing sprouts have been found to be not very effective as laboratory studies have shown that bacteria can be internalized in the sprouts, making it difficult wash off/ sanitize, and bacteria can be protected in a biofilm on the sprout surface.”

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