An investigation across multiple states was launched Friday in response to complaints of salmonella illnesses from chia seed powder in certain food products, prompting recalls across the U.S.
Known for their high nutrient levels and long shelf lives, chia seeds are becoming all the rage amongst health nuts and are included in powders and smoothie mixes. Salmonella outbreaks due to chia seed powder products have been reported in Florida, Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Michigan, New York, Ohio, Utah, Washington and Wisconsin. Canada is also investigating 34 additional reports of the outbreak.
"It is the first time that chia powder has been identified as a food that transmits salmonella," says investigator Dr. Laura Gieraltowski of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC reports 450 deaths each year from salmonella, the most common disease found in foods.
Due to the lengthy shelf life of chia seeds, the CDC is prompting people who may have consumed chia products at an earlier date to check their cabinets. Gieraltowski says that many people make become ill without realizing it. Symptoms include diarrhea, fever and abdominal cramps.
While the illness is not severe in most people, it is particularly dangerous for older adults and young children with weak immune systems. Those infected may display symptoms for four to seven days.
Brands such as Green Smoothie Girl, Health Matters America and Williams-Sonoma Inc. launched a recall this month. The mechanism of transmission of salmonella in chia seeds is unknown, but salmonella and E. coli may be transferred from sprouted seeds.
Navitas Natural, a company that began recalling its chia products voluntarily in May, is expanding its measures to include more products. Its initial efforts primarily recalled nutritional powder products.
"Our business depends on providing safe and healthy food, and we will not take changes with our consumers' wellbeing," says Zach Adelman, CEO of Navitas Natural.
Two people have thus far been hospitalized as a result of the outbreak. Those that have fallen sick mostly consume vegan, vegetarian, or organic diets. Chia foods grew in popularity as a result of the demand for healthy gluten-free products.
Consumers can find product images and details including sizes, UPC codes and best-by dates by visiting the CDC website.