Salmonella investigation traces outbreak to imported sprout seeds

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Published on 05/04/2009 12:50pm By Ashley Bentley


The Food and Drug Administration has traced the source of the seeds suspected in a multi-state outbreak of Salmonella Saintpaul from fresh alfalfa sprouts.

Caudill Seed Co., Louisville, Ky., has withdrawn all batches of seeds with six-digit lot numbers beginning with “032.” The seeds, in 50-pound white bags, were imported from Italy, Caudill spokesman Lyle Orwig said.

The bags are marked with a white or yellow label displaying the seed distributor’s name.

Although the FDA has identified seeds with these specific lot numbers, none of the administration’s testing in Caudill’s facility has come back positive for salmonella.

“What they’ve said to us is the cases all led to sprouts, from multiple growers, and the common link is seeds, but all testing on those lots are negative,” Orwig said. “We have decided to do a voluntary recall in an abundance of caution.”

Orwig said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention obtained information from affected consumers about what they had eaten and where. That information led investigators back to sprouts, which led back to growers, which led back to seeds.

“That lot was a common denominator among the illnesses,” Orwig said.

There is no evidence incriminating alfalfa seeds from other lots or the sprouts grown from them, according to a news release.

The FDA recommends that retailers, restaurant operators and personnel at foodservice facilities verify with their suppliers that the sprouts or seeds provided do not come from an affected lot.

The administration also recommends sprout growers follow the guidance for the sprout industry, which was developed in 1999 to alleviate food safety issues with sprouts.

“If they adhere to the FDA guidance, that’ll go a long way to help prevent any similar events in the future,” Orwig said.

Orwig said from his understanding, the outbreak wouldn’t have happened had the guidance been strictly followed by growers. The FDA’s guidelines include treating seeds prior to sprouting to reduce the likelihood of pathogens, as well as testing spent irrigation water for salmonella and E. coli after the second day of the four-day sprout growing process.

Orwig said seeds from the 032 lot that are still at the facility have been quarantined until the FDA finishes its investigation. Meanwhile, recalled seeds should be returned to the facility.

Orwig said Caudill has other seeds to meet its customers’ needs.

“We’re replacing that lot with other seed from our stocks that are not from that number,” Orwig said.

As far as future plans, the company will wait until the investigation is finished and all available information is in.

“We’ve got to get to the bottom of it first,” Orwig said. “It’s an unfortunate situation, but our concern is for the health and well-being of consumers in mind with our recall.”


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