May 2011 in the EU : A deadly outbreak linked to a pathogenic strain of E. coli killed 39 people, left over 3,517 sick, 839 of them with life-threatening kidney disease, and appeared to be centered in northern Germany near Hamburg. Beginning May 2, 2011, public health officials in Germany noted an alarming rise in a severe illness called hemolytic uremic syndrome. In this outbreak, HUS was being caused by an infection with a type of pathogenic E. coli, known as E. coli O104:H4.2 This strain of E. coli causes an illness similar to infection with E. coli O157:H7, however the infection seems to be more severe as this strain of bacteria is very effective at attaching to the lining of the small intestine, growing, and producing the virulent toxin.

Local German officials had evidence that tainted domestic sprouts had caused the deadly E. coli outbreak – the deadliest in recorded history – that afflicted Germany, and France, and unnerved fresh-produce markets throughout Europe, such that they shut down the farms in the northern part of the country where the sprouts were grown. Other harmful, Shiga toxin-producing strains of E. coli were detected on vegetables other than sprouts over the course of the European outbreak investigation.

Sprouts (sprouted seeds) may be regarded as a health-food, but actually they are scarier than raw meat in terms of the risk of microbial contamination. Seeds are sprouted by placing germinating seeds in a warm, moist environment. Under these conditions, any bacteria contaminating the seeds are placed into an ideal growth environment. Work done by a research laboratory at UW-Madison several years ago, and research by other laboratories, has shown that there can be a million-fold increase in pathogens on artificially-contaminated alfalfa seeds during the sprouting process.

In contrast, the meat and poultry processing industries, although exposure laden, do have standards in place to limit the growth of potential bacterial contaminants during processing, and these same biologic contaminants are often rendered ineffective when the meats are cooked.

June 2011 in the US : CDC collaborated with public health officials in many states, and with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), to investigate a multi-state outbreak of Salmonella Enteritidis infections linked to alfalfa sprouts and spicy sprouts. There was no connection between this Salmonella outbreak and the European E. coli O104:H4 outbreak.

The FDA issued a warning in 1999 which stated : Warning: Consumers who are concerned about their health will not consume raw, sprouted seeds.

Meat, Fish, Fowl, Beans, Peas, Legumes, Nuts, Dairy, or Vegan – care must always be taken in production, processing, and consuming, edible products, in order to avoid food borne contamination and subsequent illness.