More than 70 people in the United States and Canada have been sickened in two so-called “sproutbreaks” involving foods made from either sprouted chia seeds or clover, federal investigators say. More than 10 of them have been hospitalized.
In the chia outbreak, the illnesses have been tracedto two products: a powder made from sprouted, ground chia seeds and a separate product made from sprouted chia and flax seeds, sold by Health Matters America.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has reports of 21 people in 12 states falling ill from the chia products. An additional 34 infections have been reported to the Public Health Agency of Canada.
The ground chia powder was also distributed to and sold by Navitas Naturals, in Novato, Calif., which expanded an existing recall of goods containing the sprouted chia powder on June 6.
Both Health Matters and Navitas issued recall notices via the Food and Drug Administration.
One of its customers was Williams-Sonoma, which sold an Omega 3 Smoothie Mixer that contained the chia powder.
The sprouted chia powder is used as a gluten-free flour and is also sprinkled on breakfast cereal and other foods.
Gluten-free products have become a health craze in the past few years, with one in three American adults saying they’ve tried to cut down on grains such as wheat, barley and rye, according to the consumer marketing research group NPD.
Those grains contain a protein called gluten. About one in 133 Americas has an autoimmune disorder called celiac disease, which means they cannot digest gluten, according to the University of Chicago Celiac Disease Center.
Three different strains of salmonella have been linked to the sprouted seed powder.
It’s one of two ongoing “sproutbreaks” in the nation.
A second, linked to sprouted clover, has sickened 17 people with E. coli O121 in five states. Almost half of those sickened have been hospitalized.
The clover sprout outbreak was traced to contaminated raw clover sprouts produced by Evergreen Fresh Sprouts of Moyie Springs, Idaho.
Some of the problems FDA inspectors found at the Idaho sprout plant included:
• Two employees using tennis rackets with scratches, chips, frayed plastic and sponge-type handles to scoop mung bean sprouts from a harvester. The same rackets were used the following day during alfalfa sprout harvesting.
• An employee using a pitchfork with visible corroded metal and rough welds to transfer mung bean sprouts into plastic tubs.
E. coli O121 can cause bloody diarrhea and abdominal cramps. Most people recover within a week, but in some cases it can result in kidney failure and death.
Salmonella symptoms can include fever, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting and abdominal pain. It can cause serious and sometimes fatal infections in young children, elderly people and others with weakened immune systems.
The recalled chia powder was used in products that were available for purchase in many retail stores nationwide and online, according to the CDC.
Most Americas know chia seeds as the tiny brown seeds that can be made into a paste and applied to ceramic figures so they grow a green coat of sprouts.
Those same seeds are now being sprouted, dried and ground into a powder that is added to gluten-free products.
The seeds were imported into Canada where they were sprouted and milled into powder. The powder was then packaged in California.
Sprouts are considered high-risk products because the moisture and warmth of the sprouting process allows any microbes that might be on the seeds to grow.
In the case of the chia powder, when the spouts were dried and ground, the salmonella microbes remained.
Chia powder is a popular addition to foods because it is high in proteins and antioxidants.
The CDC in Atlanta is recommending that consumers do not eat any of the recalled products containing chia.
There is concern that these products have a long shelf life and could still be in people’s homes despite the recall.
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