E. coli, Salmonella and Listeria Food Poisoning from Sprouts is Common

Although Americans consume millions of pounds of raw sprouts each year, many are unaware of the health risk they pose. The growing environment for sprouts – warm, humid air and rich soil, also provides ideal conditions for bacterial growth, so sprouts are frequently contaminated with Salmonella, Listeria, and E. coli and are commonly linked to food poisoning outbreaks.

To get an idea of just how common these “sproutbreaks” are, look at some of these statistics from the FDA and Colorado State researchers:

  • For more than 20 years, there has been at least one sproutbreak each year.
  • Between 1996 and 2014, 43 food poisoning outbreaks from sprouts caused 2,405 illnesses, 171 hospitalizations, and three deaths, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
  • Between 1998 and 2018, raw or lightly cooked sprouts were linked to 57 food poisoning outbreaks, 30 of which were multistate.
  • Those 57 outbreaks resulted in 1,940 illnesses, but research shows that for every confirmed case 28 go unreported. That means as many as 53,000 Americans have gotten food poisoning from sprouts.
  • Of the 57 sproutbreaks, 40 were caused by Salmonella, 10 were caused by E. coli,  three by Listeria monocytogenes, one from norovirus, and three from an unknown pathogen.
  • A CDC study of the 28 multistate outbreaks that occurred during 2016 found that sprouts were the source of more outbreaks than any other food.

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Jimmy John’s Sproutbreaks

And it doesn’t really matter what kind of sprout it is, as Jimmy John Liautaud, the founder of Jimmy John’s, discovered when, hoping to break a years-long streak of outbreaks linked to alfalfa sprouts, he switched to clover sprouts only to kick off another, years-long streak of outbreaks.

The last streak ended in 2020 when Jimmy John’s received a warning letter from the FDA citing the company’s food safety failures with fresh produce. The letter said  the sandwich shop chain had “engaged in a pattern of receiving and offering for sale adulterated fresh produce, specifically clover sprouts and cucumbers.” (In 2013, a multistate outbreak was linked to imported cucumbers served at Jimmy John’s.)

Alfalfa, Clover, and Bean Sprouts Linked to Outbreaks

Most alfalfa and clover sprouts sold in the U.S. are grown domestically, whereas most bean sprouts consumed in the U.S. are imported, according to Colorado State researchers. About 75 percent of mung bean sprouts Americans eat are grown in Japan and China yet most of the recent bean sprout outbreaks and recalls have all been linked to domestically grown products.

Alfalfa Sprout Outbreak

In December 2022, a Salmonella outbreak linked to contaminated alfalfa sprouts sickened at least 12 people in Nebraska and more cases elsewhere. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)says the outbreak is multistate and includes at least 15 illnesses.

Bean Sprout Recalls

A Listeria recall for bean sprouts and soy sprouts produced by Fullei Fresh of Miami was issued in October 2021.  It included organic and conventional sprouts produced between September 14 and October 5, 2021. The recall is the company’s second in two years. In 2019, Fullei Fresh had another Listeria recall for bean sprouts.

Fullei bean sprout Listeria recall

In 2017, Happy Sprout Inc. of Springfield, VA. issued a Listeria recall for soybean and mung bean sprouts. And, in 2016, the FDA and U.S. Department of Justice blocked the sale of bean sprouts produced by  Henry’s Farm Inc. of Woodford, VA after the sprouts had been recalled several times for Listeria and the FDA found multiple food safety violations at the facility.

Bean Sprout Outbreaks

In 2014, mung bean sprouts produced domestically by Wholesome Soy Products, Inc. of Chicago were linked to a Listeria outbreak that sickened five people in Illinois and Michigan. All five people were hospitalized, two of them died.

In 2015, a Salmonella Enteritidis linked to bean sprouts produced by Wonton Foods Inc. of Brooklyn, NY sickened 115 people in 12 states.  Of the 75 people interviewed by health officials, 19 were hospitalized.

Food Safety Lawyers with Experience

If you or a loved one got food poisoning from sprouts and would like a free consultation with an experienced food poisoning lawyer, please contact us. You can reach the Pritzker Hageman Food Safety Team by calling 1-888-377-8900, sending a text to 612-261-0856, or by completing the form below. There is no obligation and we don’t get paid unless we win.

UPDATE: This post was originally published on October 12, 2021, and updated on December 28, 2022, to include information about a Salmonella alfalfa sprout outbreak.

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