Health officials in Wisconsin and Minnesota are warning people to avoid eating fresh alfalfa sprouts from Jack & The Green Sprouts because they have been linked to an E. coli outbreak that has sickened at least nine people. The most recent illness began Feb. 1, but an epidemiologist with the Minnesota Department of Health said late this afternoon that officials believe the alfalfa sprouts from Jack & The Green Sprouts are still available at retail.

Fresh alfalfa sprouts from Jack & The Green Sprouts have been linked to an E. coli outbreak and may still be available at retailers and foodservice operations in multiple states. (Photo courtesy of Minnesota Department of Health)
“Sprouts have a longer shelf life than you might expect,” said Amy Saupe, foodborne illness epidemiologist. “We re concerned that these alfalfa sprouts may still be out there in stores or people’s homes.” Saupe said DNA tests show all nine people — seven in Minnesota and two in Wisconsin — were infected with the same strain of E. coli. Two in Minnesota required hospitalization, but all have recovered, according to state officials.s “The seven Minnesota cases and at least one of the Wisconsin cases were exposed to implicated alfalfa sprouts from a variety of locations, including grocery/cooperative stores, restaurants, salad bars and commercial food service,” according to the warning from Minnesota’s health department. Health officials are concerned that the outbreak may be more widespread because Jack & The Green Sprouts, River Falls, WI, distributes its sprouts to states in the upper Midwest “and possibly other states.” No one from Jack & The Green Sprouts responded to a request for comments. As of late this afternoon, the company had not issued a recall of the implicated sprouts, according to state officials. Federal investigators from the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are working with officials in Minnesota and Wisconsin. The CDC’s PulseNet database is what allowed Minnesota and Wisconsin officials to determine that all nine of the outbreak victims were infected with identical E. coli. Saupe said the Minnesota Health Department does daily reviews of reportable diseases, such as E. coli and other foodborne pathogens. When the lab sees positive tests for the same strain of a pathogen, it triggers an automatic investigation. The implicated sprouts from Jack & The Green Sprouts may be packaged in plastic clamshells with brightly colored round labels on top that note the sprout variety. The alfalfa sprouts may be mixed in the same package with other sprout varieties. The FDA is working with state officials to collect samples and determine the source of the outbreak. State officials urge consumers not to eat alfalfa sprouts produced by Jack & The Green Sprouts and retailers and restaurants not to sell or serve them. More information will become available as the investigation proceeds. Sprouts are a known source of foodborne illness. Children, the elderly, pregnant women and people with weakened immune systems should avoid eating raw sprouts of any kind. You can reduce your risk of illness by requesting that raw sprouts not be added to your food, according to the CDC and state health officials. Symptoms of illness caused by E. coli typically include stomach cramps and diarrhea, often with bloody stools, but only a low-grade fever or no fever. People typically become ill two to five days after exposure, but this period can range from one to eight days. Most people recover in five to 10 days. However, E. coli infections sometimes lead to a serious complication called hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), which can cause kidney failure and other severe problems, including death. Diarrhea associated with E. coli infections should not be treated with antibiotics, as this practice might promote the development of HUS, according to the Minnesota health department. Anyone who believes they may have developed an E. coli infection should contact their health care provider.