FDA Investigated Multistate Outbreak of E. coli O157 Infections Linked to Alfalfa Sprouts From Jack and the Green Sprouts

March 25, 2016

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The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) along with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and state and local authorities investigated an outbreak of Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli (E. coli) O157 illnesses.

March 25, 2016
According to the CDC, the outbreak appears to be over as of March 25, 2016.

What was the Problem and What was Done About It?  

The FDA, CDC and state and local officials investigated an outbreak of Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC) O157 infections linked to alfalfa sprouts produced by Jack & the Green Sprouts, Inc., in River Falls, Wisconsin.

The CDC reports that eleven people were infected with the outbreak strains of E. coli O157 infections in two states: Minnesota (8) and Wisconsin (3). Two people were hospitalized and there were no reports of hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS). Reported illness onset dates range from January 17, 2016 through February 17, 2016. Collaborative investigation efforts of the FDA, CDC, the Minnesota Department of Health, Minnesota Department of Agriculture, Wisconsin Department of Health Services, and Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection indicate that sprouts produced by Jack & the Green Sprouts, Inc. were the likely source of this outbreak.

On February 25, 2016, Jack & the Green Sprouts, Inc. announced disclaimer icon they were recalling all alfalfa and alfalfa onion products.

On March 25, 2016, the CDC said the outbreak appears to be over.

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What are the Symptoms of E. coli O157:H7?

The symptoms of Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC) infections vary for each person but often include severe stomach cramps, diarrhea (often bloody), and vomiting. If there is fever, it usually is not very high (less than 101 degrees Fahrenheit disclaimer icon /less than 38.5 degrees Celsius). Most people get better within 5–7 days. Some infections are very mild, but others are severe or even life-threatening.

Around 5–10 percent of those who are diagnosed with STEC infection develop a potentially life-threatening complication known as hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS).
Symptoms of HUS include fever, abdominal pain, feeling very tired, decreased frequency of urination, small unexplained bruises or bleeding from the nose and mouth, and losing pink color in cheeks and inside the lower eyelids. Persons with HUS should be hospitalized because their kidneys may stop working and they may develop other serious problems.

Most persons with HUS recover within a few weeks, but some suffer permanent damage or die. People who experience these symptoms should seek emergency medical care immediately.

Who was at Risk? 

People of any age can become infected. Very young children, the elderly, and those with compromised immune systems are more likely than others to develop severe illness and HUS, but even healthy older children and young adults can become seriously ill.

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What Do Restaurants and Retailers Need To Do?

Restaurants and retailers should not purchase or use recalled alfalfa sprout or alfalfa onion sprout products produced by Jack & the Green Sprouts, Inc. Restaurants and retailers should be aware that produce may be a source of pathogens and should control the potential for cross-contamination of food processing equipment and the food processing environment. They should follow the steps below:

  • Wash and sanitize display cases and refrigerators where potentially contaminated products were stored.
  • Wash and sanitize cutting boards, surfaces, and utensils used to prepare, serve, or store potentially contaminated products.
  • Wash hands with hot water and soap following the cleaning and sanitation process.
  • Retailers, restaurants, and other food service operators who have processed and packaged any potentially contaminated products need to be concerned about cross contamination of cutting surfaces and utensils through contact with the potentially contaminated products.
  • Regular frequent cleaning and sanitizing of food contact surfaces and utensils used in food preparation may help to minimize the likelihood of cross-contamination. 

What Do Consumers Need To Do?

People should not eat recalled alfalfa sprout or alfalfa onion sprout products produced by Jack & the Green Sprouts, Inc. People who think they might have become ill from eating possibly contaminated sprouts should talk to their health care providers. Like any fresh produce that is consumed raw or lightly cooked, sprouts may contain bacteria that can cause foodborne illness. Warm and humid conditions used for sprouting are also ideal for the growth of bacteria, including Salmonella, Listeria, and E. coli. Any bacteria present can multiply dramatically during the sprouting process. (Organic or locally-grown sprouts are not necessarily less risky, and neither are sprouts grown at home.) Children, the elderly, pregnant women, and persons with weakened immune systems should avoid eating raw sprouts of any kind.

Consumers should always practice safe food handling and preparation measures. It is recommended that they wash hands, utensils, and surfaces with hot, soapy water before and after handling food.
For refrigerators and other food preparation surfaces and food cutting utensils that may have come in contact with the potentially contaminated sprouts, it is very important that the consumers thoroughly clean these areas and items.
Consumers should follow these simple steps:

  • Wash the inside walls and shelves of the refrigerator, cutting boards and countertops; then sanitize them with a solution of one tablespoon of chlorine bleach to one gallon of hot water; dry with a clean cloth or paper towel that has not been previously used. 
  • Wash hands with warm water and soap for at least 20 seconds before and after handling food.
  • Wipe up spills in the refrigerator immediately and clean the refrigerator regularly.
  • Always wash hands with warm water and soap following the cleaning and sanitization process. 
  • Persons who think they might have become ill from eating potentially contaminated sprouts should consult their health care provider.
  • Consumers can request that raw sprouts not be added to food. If you purchase a sandwich or salad at a restaurant or delicatessen, and want to avoid sprouts, check to make sure that raw sprouts have not been added.

Who Should be Contacted?

Contact your healthcare provider if you have diarrhea that lasts for more than 3 days, or is accompanied by high fever, blood in the stool, or so much vomiting that you cannot keep liquids down and you pass very little urine.

The FDA encourages consumers with questions about food safety to call 1-888-SAFEFOOD or consult the website.

Additional Information

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Page Last Updated: 03/25/2016
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