Almost 70 people have fallen ill in New Zealand with Salmonella infections from alfalfa sprouts.

GSF Fresh New Zealand recalled some of its Pams, Sproutman and Fresh Harvest branded sprout products because of a “production process concern” at the end of March.

A spokesman from the Ministry of Health told Food Safety News that the outbreak is over but sporadic cases could continue to occur if the recalled product is eaten and infected people do not practice good personal hygiene.

Recalled Pams brand sprouts

Interviews were conducted with an extended food based questionnaire and alfalfa sprouts were identified as the likely source of the outbreak.

“Salmonella Typhimurium phage type 108/170 was the causative pathogen identified from cases, sprouts and spent irrigation water tested in this outbreak. Subtyping using Multiple Locus Variable-Number Tandem Repeat Analysis (MLVA) and whole genome sequencing methods were performed on isolates to confirm cases in the outbreak as well as the outbreak source,” said the spokesman.

Analysis of information from people who got sick and test results confirmed the strain of Salmonella was identical to a strain detected in alfalfa sprouts and indicates the product is the likely source of illness.

There were only four cases of this phage type identified in 2018, 13 in 2017 and 19 in 2016.

Recalled sprouts had best before dates of March 31 to April 4. GSF New Zealand is one of the largest produce manufacturers in New Zealand, according to the firm’s website. The company operates a plant in Auckland which manufactures fresh produce for restaurants throughout the country.

Recalled Fresh Harvest brand sprouts

Fresh Harvest brand products were sold in Countdown, Fresh Choice and SuperValue supermarkets throughout the North Island. Pams Superfoods Super Salad Mix was sold in supermarkets across New Zealand. Other Pams brand sprouts affected by the recall were only sold in supermarkets around the North Island. Sproutman brand products were sold in stores and retail outlets across the country.

Pams brand sprouts sold in the South Island are made by a different supplier, Southern Alps Sprouts Ltd, and were not affected by the recall.

Melinda Sando, manager of food compliance for the Ministry of Primary Industries (MPI), told Food Safety News that it was working with the sprout supplier to find out what caused the problem, with production and supply of sprouts on hold.

Onset date of the first known case was Dec. 23, 2018. The most recent case was reported on April 1, 2019. Between that period there were 67 confirmed and two probable infections. The majority of cases – 66 – fell ill between Jan. 23 to 25. No deaths were reported, but 17 people needed hospital treatment.

Cases were predominantly in the North Island and from the following District Health Boards: Waitemata (13 cases), Counties Manukau (8), Waikato, MidCentral and Hutt Valley (6 each), Capital and Coast (5), Wairarapa (4), Northland, Auckland and Hawke’s Bay (3 each), Lakes, Tairawhiti, Taranaki and Southern (2 each), Bay of Plenty, Whanganui, Nelson Marlborough and Canterbury (1 each).

The people affected ranged in age from 2 to 92 years old and almost two-thirds were women.

MPI advises consumers that the only way to make all varieties of sprouts safe is to cook them thoroughly.

The agency also recommends not to serve raw sprouts to young children and babies, the frail elderly, pregnant women, people who’ve recently had an operation and those who have a chronic illness or have been advised to take extra care with food safety.

(To sign up for a free subscription to Food Safety News, click here.)