Organic Sprouted Chia Powder Salmonella Outbreak LawsuitsBetween January and July 2014 public health officials in the United States and Canada investigated an outbreak of Salmonella linked to consumption of organic sprouted chia seeds or chia powder. The initial outbreak investigation used PulseNet data to identify a cluster of 12 persons infected with a strain of Salmonella Newport that had never been seen before in PulseNet. Through a collaborative investigation with the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) identified a second cluster of patients with a strain of Salmonella Hartford also not seen previously in PulseNet. A third serotype isolated in patients, Salmonella Oranienburg, was also suspected of being associated with chia powder. Canadian public health officials identified a fourth serotype in outbreak associated patients, Salmonella Stainpaul. A fifth serotype, Salmonella Saintpaul, was isolated in patients in Canada but not in the United States.
Early in the investigation, 21 ill persons answered questions about foods eaten and other exposures in the week before becoming ill. Nineteen of them reported eating chia seeds or powder. Fifteen of 19 persons who identified the type of chia product consumed reported eating chia powder specifically. Traceback of the products reported by ill persons identified Bioessential Botanicals, a Canadian firm, as a common supplier of organic sprouted chia powder used in these products. Laboratory testing conducted by state public health laboratories in California, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New York, Utah, Washington, and Wisconsin as well as by federal laboratories in the United States (FDA) and Canada (Canadian Food Inspection Agency) isolated outbreak strains of Salmonella Newport, Salmonella Hartford, and Salmonella Oranienburg in opened and unopened products containing chia powder. One or more of the outbreak strains was isolated in samples of Navitas Naturals products. Additionally, FDA laboratory sampling identified one sample of Organic Traditions Sprouted Chia Seed Powder containing Salmonella Gaminara. There did not appear to be any human cases of Salmonella Gaminara linked to this outbreak.
These findings prompted several recalls of multiple products containing chia seed and chia powder in the U.S. and Canada. On May 28, 2014 Navitas Naturals recalled products containing sprouted chia powder. The recalled products included Navitas Naturals Organic Sprouted Chia Powder, Navitas Naturals Omega Blend Sprouted Smoothie Mix, and Williams-Sonoma Omega 3 Smoothie Mixer. On May 30, 2014 the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) notified consumers that Advantage Health Matters and Back 2 the Garden recalled various products containing sprouted chia seed powder. These products were sold under the brand names Organic Traditions and Back 2 the Garden. CFIA expanded the recall several times throughout June 2014 to include Harmonic Arts Botanical Dispensary, Intuitive Path Superfoods, and Nourish Inc. On June 11, 2014 the FDA placed Bioessential Botanicals on import alert, thereby prohibiting entry of shipments of chia seed and chia powder into the United States.
United States Outbreak
A total of 31 persons infected with the outbreak strains of Salmonella Newport (20 persons), Salmonella Hartford (7 persons), or Salmonella Oranienburg (4 persons) were reported from 16 states. Five ill persons were hospitalized. There were no deaths. Illness onset dates ranged from January 21, 2014 to July 22, 2014. The investigation of an outbreak of salmonellosis linked to consumption of chia seeds or chia powder was closed on August 14, 2014.
Illness in 63 persons in Canada was attributed to consumption of chia seeds or chia powder. In Canada four outbreak strains of Salmonella Newport, Salmonella Hartford, Salmonella Oranienburg, and Salmonella Saintpaul were isolated. Ill persons resided in 4 provinces – Alberta (10 cases), British Columbia (14 cases), Ontario (35 cases) and Quebec (4 cases). In Canadian patients, dates of illness onsets ranged from December 1, 2013 to June 22, 2014. Twelve case-patients were hospitalized. No deaths were reported. On August 13, 2014 the investigation in Canada was declared closed.
Marler Clark represented 5 individuals who were affected by the outbreak, achieving settlements covering their medical expenses, wage loss, and pain and suffering.