The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) are now investigating an outbreak of Salmonella Newport, Salmonella Hartford, and Salmonella Oranienburg that has been linked to organic sprouted chia powder made from chia seeds. The CDC and FDA became involved after pulsed-field gel electrophoresis confirmed that the victims were linked to the same source – initially 12 victims were linked to a rare Salmonella Newport never previously recorded in PulseNet in the U.S., but the investigation grew as other victims were identified with two other strains of salmonella, including Salmonella Hartford and Salmonella Oranienburg. As of now, the outbreak includes 31 laboratory confirmed cases, including 20 Salmonella Newport cases, 7 Salmonella Hartford cases, and 4 Salmonella Oranienburg cases. In addition, the outbreak is highly diffuse, with victims are from at least 16 states so far, including Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, New York, Ohio, Rhode Island, Texas, Utah, Washington, and Wisconsin. New York has been hit hardest, with 7 victims, followed by California with 4. Connecticut, Texas, Illinois and Wisconsin also have more than one reported case.

This is also a long-ranging outbreak, now surpassing seven months, with the first victim presenting on January 21 and the latest presenting on July 22. The youngest victim is only 1 year old, while the eldest is 81 – the average age is 48 years, with more than half being female and nearly a quarter requiring hospitalization so far.

CDC and FDA Investigation of the Outbreak

The CDC, FDA, and state health agencies use epidemiologic, laboratory, and trace-back techniques to identify the source of an outbreak, and in this investigation effective use of trace-back techniques conclusively identified a number of products of differing brands all containing chia – 90% of those interviewed reported eating chia seeds or powder, with 79% naming chia powder as the substance consumed. The trace-back led investigators to link what had hitherto been seen as three separate outbreaks (three separate strains of salmonella) into a dingle investigation. The occurrence of this strain of Salmonella Newport, as well as this strain of Salmonella Hartford, are firsts in the national PulseNet directory. The strain of Salmonella Oranienburg has been previously recorded, with about one case presenting each year in the U.S.

But in addition to highly significant trace-back investigation results, linking victims with matching strains of salmonella to chia products, state laboratories in California, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New York, Utah, Washington, and Wisconsin also found outbreak strains of salmonella Newport, Salmonella Hartford, and Salmonella Oranienburg in left-over product in victims’ homes, and some states, including California, Connecticut, and New York, along with the FDA, have found these strains in unopened product. In short, conclusive trace-back, epidemiologic, and laboratory investigations have confirmed chia products as the source of the salmonella illnesses.

FDA Issues Recall on Certain Products and Issues Related Import Ban

So far there have been a number of recalls of chia products:

• On May 28th,Navitas Naturals issues limited recall;
• On June 4th, Health Matters America issue limited recall;
• June 5th, Green Smoothie Girl issues a recall;
• June 6th, Navitas Naturals issues expanded recall;
• On June 26th Health Matters America issue expanded recall; and
• On July 1st, Oriya Organics issues recall

The FDA also placed the Canadian firm, Bioessential Botanicals, on an Import Alert which is designed to detain chia seeds or powder from Bioesentials. To avoid a hold, this Canadian company will be forced to prove each shipment if salmonella –free.

So far, the National Antimicrobial Resistance Monitoring System (NARMS) has determined that all three strains are responsive to traditional antibiotics.