Sprout Dangers

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Infections Associated with Eating Seed Sprouts: An International Concern

Peter J. Taormina, Larry R. Beuchat, University of Georgia, Griffin, Georgia, USA; Laurence Slutsker, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta, Georgia, USA

[Emerging Infectious Diseases 5(5), 1999. Centers for Disease Control]


Recent outbreaks of Salmonella and Escherichia coli O157:H7 infections associated with raw seed sprouts have occurred in several countries. Subjective evaluations indicate that pathogens can exceed 107 per gram of sprouts produced from inoculated seeds during sprout production without adversely affecting appearance. Treating seeds and sprouts with chlorinated water or other disinfectants fails to eliminate the pathogens. A comprehensive approach based on good manufacturing practices and principles of hazard analysis and critical control points can reduce the risk of sprout-associated disease. Until effective measures to prevent sprout-associated illness are identified, persons who wish to reduce their risk of foodborne illness from raw sprouts are advised not to eat them; in particular, persons at high risk for severe complications of infections with Salmonella or E. coli O157:H7, such as the elderly, children, and those with compromised immune systems, should not eat raw sprouts.


With changing food production and eating habits, new pathogens and newly recognized vehicles of infection have emerged. Recent outbreaks of foodborne illness associated with eating fresh produce have heightened concerns that these foods may be an increasing source of illness[1]. In the last decade, multiple outbreaks linked to raw seed sprouts have occurred in countries throughout the world (Table 1). Raw seed sprouts have become a popular food item in the United States; in a recent population-based survey, 7% of respondents had eaten alfalfa sprouts in the 5 days before the interview[2]. We summarize the epidemiologic and microbiologic data from these outbreaks and review efforts to prevent sprout-associated illness...

........... more at the URL............

-- alan (foo@bar.com), December 13, 1999


Use diluted colloidal silver (homemade) to grow the sprouts and you won't have these problems.

-- Dean -- from (almost) Duh Moines (dtmiller@midiowa.net), December 13, 1999.

I didn't notice a date anywhere on this report. From what I've read, the outbreak related to sprouts was pretty much a one time event that happened at a restaurant in the 70's, yet it's still being told.

I've made my own sprouts for years, and so have most of my friends, and so do thousands of restaurants, and I've never personally known of anyone to get sick from eating them.

Of course, you have to use clean jars, and clean water, and eat them at the proper time, and throw them away if they look or smell odd, just like you do with any food.

If things get tight this spring, sprouts may be the only fresh green food that many people are able to eat. Take precautions, but certainly don't give up on eating sprouts. They're very tasty!

Alfalfa, mung bean, red clover, green pea, lentil, sunflower, broccoli,and radish are the ones we eat regularly. They're a great addition to our diet.

-- Susan (me@sproutcity.com), December 13, 1999.

There have been some recent cases in the news, but as I recall, they all concerned *commercial* production.

Chances are, you don't have to worry about minimum wage employees washing their hands after wiping their rear ends when you sprout your *own* seeds. [g]

-- Ron Schwarz (rs@clubvb.com.delete.this), December 13, 1999.

There have been multiple recent Salmonella and E. coli outbreaks in recent years and the reasons why it's started becoming a problem are not entirely clear. I came across a lot of this in researching sprouting for my book, The Prudent Pantry, and was less than thrilled to discover it as it complicates storage planning.

Good hygiene and sanitation practices are a must, whether in commercial production or home-grown but the problem seems largely to lie in the seeds themselves. They're grown in dirt and handled with machinery that may have been in contact with yet more dirt and perhaps animal manure. When you sprout seeds you leave them in a dark, moist, warm environment for several days to get the best sprouts which is also exactly the same conditions that bacteria need to flourish.

Really aggravating to me since sprouts are my preferred salad green. Sanitizing the seeds is a nuisiance.

I spent a long and tedious time reading documents on the FDA web site and it seems that sanitizing sprouting seeds with any degree of certainty and not destroying the seeds viability is no easy trick.

If this area concerns you I recommend reading about it on the International Sprout Grower's Association web site at

http://www.isga-sprouts. org/index.html

They have a good explanation and instructions for sanitizing sprouting seeds in both commercial and home settings. I also cover how to sanitize sprouting seeds along with a lot of other kitchen sanitation and food safety information in The Prudent Pantry


The Prudent Food Storage FAQ, v3.5


-- A.T. Hagan (athagan@sprintmail.com), December 13, 1999.

If you compare how commercial sprouts are done with what the average person does, OF COURSE there is a hazard. You have to rinse those guys religiously several times a day! I wonder if those sprouting trays are not also suspect...."crud" can collect in edges, and if not washed and disinfected.....bacteria can grow rapidly. I always use a big jar with either an old stocking or a special purchased lid on the top, and about a day before the sprouts are "done" I empty the whole thing into a big pan of water, and "clean" them. And then once they are ready, eat them pronto!

-- Mary (CAgdma@home.com), December 13, 1999.

For the record, I am a sprout fan. Just thought you all might be interested in this info. As the article emphasizes, those at risk are those who are weak (elderly, infants) or immunologically compromised to begin with.

The article is clearly dated on the excerpt I posted: 1999.

I like the dilute colloidal silver idea.

Perhaps using antimicrobial botanic extracts (cinnamon, clove, thyme, etc.) in the soak water might help?

-- alan (foo@bar.com), December 13, 1999.

Found Citric Acid next to the sprout seeds in the health food store. It says on the side of the bottle, "Citric Acid is useful in sprouting, canning, drying or freezing to preserve Vitamin C content, retard spoilage by bacterial growth, and prevent discoloration." Wished I knew about this stuff 6 mos. ago and maybe I wouldn't have fuzz on my dried apples.

-- Sue (number9@mindspring.com), December 14, 1999.

The best sprouts are *not* grown in the dark!

The "store bought" abominations are indeed grown in the dark, with a negative air pressure, to ensure maximum blanching, maximum size, and maximum blandness.

REAL sprouts need *light* so they can create chlorophyl so they can photosynthesize, and start creating vitamins and nutrients.

Granted, REAL sprouts are different form the waterlogged commercial equivalents -- they have flavor and texture, and they're much shorter -- but, they *can* help sustain life, unlike the bloated trash sold in the markets.

-- Ron Schwarz (rs@clubvb.com.delete.this), December 14, 1999.

Well Ron, I generally give my sprouts a day or so in the sunshine myself because I like a little green in them as well but the general taste in sprouts runs to pale.

Nevertheless, so far as microbial contamination is concerned it's irrelevant. In the dark or in the light, once you provide abundant moisture, food and a substrate to grow on (the seeds) and sufficient warmth (all the things necessary to get sprouts) you're providing exactly the same conditions that bacteria need to grow and reproduce.

Whether commercially grown or do-it-yourself it's the seeds themselves that seem to be providing the bacteria, because of the way they're grown and handled. The FDA and the Sprout Grower's Association has been doing considerable expirmentation in finding a way to reliably sanitize sprouting seeds in such a way as to not kill the viability of the seeds. It's been a tough job because the exterior seed coat makes an excellent substrate for bacteria. The amount of chlorine they have found necessary to achieve any kind of reasonable certainty (not absolute certainty) is many, many times what we'd use to disinfect water with.

Now as to whether colloidal silver, grapefruit seed extract, citric acid, hydrogen peroxide and other substances will reliably get the job done does not seem to have been proven. Been lots of claims but verifable proof has been lacking, at least that I've been able to find.

We're going to keep on eating sprouts ourselves but we'll be holding off introducing them to our daughter until she's been eating lots of other raw foods for a while. If I were an immune-suppressed individual I wouldn't eat them at all, commercial or home-grown.


The Prudent Food Storage FAQ, v3.5


-- A.T. Hagan (athagan@sprintmail.com), December 15, 1999.

Would stir frying render the offending organisms inert?

-- flora (***@__._), December 15, 1999.

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