Falafel balls
Falafel ballsiStock

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warned against the use of frozen falafel balls due to suspicions that they may be contaminated with E. coli O121.

According to the CDC, "Epidemiologic data show that Earth Grown brand frozen falafel sold at ALDI stores may be contaminated with E. coli O121 and may be making people sick."

As of last week, 20 people had been infected with the strain, across six states. Illness reports ranged from July 13, 2022, to September 13, 2022, and the ages of the sick individuals from less than one year old to 71 years, with a median age of 31. Seventy-nine percent (79%) of those affected are female, CDC added.

Of 14 people with information available, five have been hospitalized, including one who developed hemolytic uremic syndrome, a serious condition that can cause kidney failure. No deaths have been reported.

"The true number of sick people in this outbreak is likely higher than the number reported, and the outbreak may not be limited to the states with known illnesses," CDC noted. "This is because some people recover without medical care and are not tested for E. coli. In addition, recent illnesses may not yet be reported as it usually takes 3 to 4 weeks to determine if a sick person is part of an outbreak."

"State and local public health officials are interviewing people about the foods they ate in the week before they got sick. Among 18 people interviewed, 15 reported shopping at ALDI stores. Among these 15 ALDI shoppers, 6 reported eating Earth Grown brand frozen falafel purchased from ALDI in the week before getting sick."

A DNA fingerprinting method called whole genome sequencing (WGS) has shown that bacteria from sick people’s samples are closely related genetically, suggesting that people in this outbreak got sick from the same food, CDC said.

"On October 7, 2022, Cuisine Innovations of Lakewood, New Jersey, recalled Earth Grown Vegan Traditional Falafel and Garlic & Herb Falafel," the CDC added. "According to ALDI, Cuisine Innovations is the sole supplier of Earth Grown brand frozen falafel sold in ALDI stores."

"CDC is advising people to not eat, sell, or serve recalled frozen falafel."