Food Safety Magazine

News | June 6, 2014

As Chia Seed-Linked Salmonella Outbreak Expands, U.S. and Canadian Agencies Investigate, Cooperate

By Heidi Parsons

As Chia Seed-Linked Salmonella Outbreak Expands, U.S. and Canadian Agencies Investigate, Cooperate

U.S. and Canadian health agencies continue to report increases in the number of cases of salmonellosis linked to sprouted chia seed products, with current totals at 27 in Canada and 17 in the U.S. Two strains of SalmonellaSalmonella Newport and Salmonella Hartford — have been associated with the outbreaks in both countries.

The Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) yesterday updated its Public Health Notice about the outbreak, noting that 18 more cases of salmonellosis related to chia seed-based products have been reported in four provinces. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Tuesday published an Investigation Update, which noted: "a total of 17 persons infected with the outbreak strains of Salmonella Newport (12 persons) or Salmonella Hartford (5 persons) have been reported from 10 states. Two ill persons have been hospitalized. No deaths have been reported."

Perhaps most disturbing, the CDC report stated: "Through a collaborative investigation with the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC), a total of five ill persons infected with a strain of Salmonella Hartford matching an outbreak strain in Canada have been identified through PulseNet in five U.S. states. This strain of Salmonella Hartford has never been seen before in PulseNet."

The CDC report continued:

"Initial interviews with ill persons suggested a link to the ongoing Salmonella Newport outbreak investigation in the United States. These illnesses have been combined with the existing Salmonella Newport infections previously identified as part of this investigation.

"Illnesses that occurred after May 16, 2014 might not yet be reported due to the time it takes between when a person becomes ill and when the illness is reported. This takes an average of 2 to 4 weeks. The recalled products containing organic sprouted chia powder have a long shelf-life and may still be in people’s homes, and illnesses may continue to be reported. Please see the Timeline for Reporting Cases of Salmonella Infection for more details."

News of Salmonella-contaminated organic sprouted chia seed products first broke May 28, when the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) notified the public that Navitas Naturals was recalling three products containing organic sprouted chia seed powder. The following day, the CDC announced that it was investigating a multistate outbreak of salmonellosis linked to the Navitas Naturals products. On May 30,  the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) reported that two Canadian firms were recalling products containing sprouted chia seed powder, and on May 31 the PHAC issued its first notice of an epidemiological investigation related to those recalls.