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Chia Seeds Investigated for Link to Salmonella Outbreak

Federal health authorities are warning consumers to avoid some types of ground chia seeds, a popular health food, after an outbreak of salmonella.

Twenty-one illnesses were reported, including two people hospitalized in New York, California and 10 other states, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said. Consumers should look for potentially contaminated chia powder that has been part of four recalls since May, the Atlanta-based agency said today in a statement.

Chia seeds have a long shelf life, meaning consumers who bought the tainted products may not have thrown out a bad batch, said Laura Gieraltowski, a lead investigator with the CDC’s outbreak response team. “People may use a tablespoon to sprinkle in their smoothie or put on top of their food. This is not something you just consume and throw out.”

The chia products that have been recalled are from seeds that have been sprouted and then ground into a powder, which may be how they were contaminated, Gieraltowski said in a telephone interview. The sprouting is done in warm, moist environments, where bacteria can also thrive.

Since May 28, Navitas Naturals, Health Matters America and Green Smoothie Girl have issued recalls of multiple products that may have salmonella, according to the CDC. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency also recalled products containing chia yesterday from two companies.

Navitas Naturals stopped shipping and has recalled all suspected powders, Chief Executive Officer Zach Adelman said. The recalled ground chia sprout products were provided by an outside supplier that has issued its own recalls, and no products made at Navitas’s California facility were found to be contaminated, he said.

Chia Boom

Salmonella is a bacteria responsible for about 1.2 million illnesses a year in the U.S., often through contaminated food, according to the CDC’s website. It causes diarrhea, cramping and fever, though most people usually get better without going to the hospital and don’t report their illness.

Chia has boomed as a health product similar to quinoa, hemp or Acai berries. Companies such as General Mills Inc. are making efforts to make so-called super-food based products, including ones with chia. One Richmond, Virginia-based company, Health Warrior, saw sales increase sevenfold in 2012 upon selling its snack bars to Whole Foods Market Inc. In September 2013, one of Health Warrior’s chia bars became the best-seller among almost 700 food energy and wellness bars introduced that year.

General Mills spokeswoman Bridget Christenson said none of their products are involved in a recall. A Health Warrior spokesman didn’t return a call for comment.

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