And yet another foodborne illness outbreak

It seems that there has been yet another outbreak of foodborne illness outbreak has happened, this time it’s linked to alfalfa sprouts.   The pathogen responsible is all natural salmonella bacteria.

Via CNN:

Salmonella outbreak in 10 states prompts sprouts recall

Federal public health officials are investigating a salmonella outbreak that has infected 22 people in 10 states, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced Friday.

The infections are linked to the consumption of raw alfalfa sprouts, the CDC said.

California-based Caldwell Fresh Foods is recalling all alfalfa sprouts manufactured under three of its brands because they may be contaminated with salmonella, the company said Friday. Caldwell said its alfalfa sprouts have been associated with the outbreak.

There have been no deaths reported from the outbreak, but four of those infected have been hospitalized, Caldwell Fresh Foods said in a statement Friday.

CDC is collaborating the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and with state public health officials to investigate the salmonella outbreak, the CDC said in a statement Friday.

One of those infected was an infant hospitalized in Oregon, an Oregon Department of Health official told CNN. The baby had been eating alfalfa sprouts, said Paul Cieslak, manager of the state health department’s communicable disease section.

CDC is collaborating with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and state public health officials to investigate the strain, called Salmonella Newport, the CDC said in a statement Friday.

The initial investigation traced the implicated raw alfalfa sprouts to a single sprout processor in California, the CDC said, though it did not name Caldwell Fresh Foods directly. The CDC did not respond to requests for comment on Friday.

There’s no information, as of yet, that this is at all related to “organic” growing methods, and before fingers start being pointed, I should point out that conventional farming does not eliminate this risk. Still the increase in these kind of events in the past few years does give good reason to wonder about the possible dangers of biologically active material (s**t) being used on food crops.

In the interest of safety and food quality, I’d like to offer the following suggestions, some of which will be absolutely despised by the “organic food” lobby:

  • Equipment which is used to handle, sort and package food should be regularly cleaned and disinfected with hot water and disinfectant or steam cleaning
  • The use of biologically active fertilizers such as compost or manure should be discouraged for use on food crops which come in close contact with soil, such as green leafy vegetables and ground-growing vegetables.   If used, it should be applied only before planting and should be composted to eliminate most potentially pathogenic bacteria
  • Irradiation of food should be very strongly encouraged and in some cases, even required.
  • All fruit and vegetables should be washed at all stages of production, including immediately upon being harvested, after sorting and processing and at the time of delivery.    If possible, washing should include mild non-toxic antibacterial and cleaning agents such as vinegar, citric acid or chlorinated water.  Unfortunately, there is a limit to how thoroughly produce can be washed without damaging its texture, and washing during preparation does not mean that end consumers should not wash the food before consuming it.
  • Utilize effective pest control measures at all stages of growth, processing and shipping.   Foods can be contaminated by pathogens carried by insects such as fruit flies, so even after it is harvested, it is important to mitigate pest activity.   Prevention of fungus and insect activity during growth is important not only to prevent crop loss, but because these organisms can introduce pathogens into the plant.

I realize that the above recommendations would make the skin of many “organic” advocates crawl. After all, pest control is generally kept to a minimum and cow shit is considered to be the best fertilizer, while irradiation is the stuff of nightmares. However, I prefer my food does not kill me or even make me ill.

Eventually, modern society is going to have to get past the “natural is good for you” mantra that is currently becoming so pervasive.  While it is true that there are beneficial natural bacteria, dangerous illness-causing bacteria are also natural and it does not further safety or health to allow uncontrolled amounts of unknown microbes into our food supply.