Sprouts suspected in cases of rare salmonella type

(Updated Aug. 20) — Onion and alfalfa sprouts distributed by a Brantford, Ont. food company are suspected as carriers of a rare subtype of salmonella that has sickened 12 people in Ontario and Alberta since April.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency on Aug. 9 put out a health hazard alert for Sprouts Alive and Sunsprout brand onion sprouts and mixed onion/alfalfa sprouts, distributed by Sunsprout Natural Foods.

CFIA said Aug. 9 that there were no confirmed illnesses directly tied to the consumption of the affected products. However, Sunsprout has announced a voluntary recall of the two affected products, with best-before codes up to and including Aug. 27.

The products were distributed in Ontario and the Maritimes, and may have been sold in Quebec, CFIA said.

“A few” of the people who became ill reported having eaten sprouts, Ontario’s health ministry said in a release Friday. The ministry added that it’s working with local and federal health authorities to try to find out the source of the illness in the remaining cases.

The rare subtype in all these cases is Salmonella Cubana, which the ministry said is typically confirmed in just a couple of reported cases in Ontario each year.

According to the federal Public Health Agency last Thursday, there have so far been seven cases of Cubana in Ontario and five in Alberta in which the date of the illness’ onset is known. Of those, the illnesses began between April 15 and July 26.

People at high risk for serious health effects from foodborne illnesses, particularly young children, seniors or people with weakened immune systems, should avoid eating raw sprouts, the Ontario health ministry warned.

Provincial and federal health authorities plan to monitor for additional cases, PHAC said, noting that the number of cases associated with this relatively small outbreak may increase as the investigation continues.

UPDATE, Aug. 20: CFIA on Aug. 20 updated its health hazard alert to add that the affected products were distributed in Alberta and “may also have been distributed in British Columbia, Manitoba and Saskatchewan.” The new alert includes all best-before date codes up to and including Aug. 28, 2009. The products’ western manufacturer, Living Foods of Innisfail, Alta., also has a voluntary recall underway.

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