Be aware of risks from eating sprouts

158197055I really miss topping my salads off with a handful of alfalfa sprouts. What makes them so unsafe?

It doesn’t seem that long ago that sprouts were ubiquitous at every salad bar you approached. Not so much anymore. They’ve even disappeared from some major grocery store chains after numerous outbreaks traced to sprouts in recent years.

The problem is in the way sprouts grow: Seeds need warm, moist growing conditions to sprout — exactly the conditions that illness-causing bacteria, such as Salmonella and E. coli, need to thrive.

Even if there’s just a small amount of bacteria on or inside a seed, those cells can multiply to dangerous levels within hours in such conditions.

The irony is that raw sprouts have long been touted as one of nature’s most potent health foods. But as their popularity grew in the 1980s and 1990s, so did the reported number of illnesses associated with them.

According to the Food and Drug Administration, there were 34 outbreaks associated with sprouts between 1996 and 2010 — the most associated with any type of produce. In fact, sprouts were responsible for more than one-quarter of all produce-related outbreaks — more than those from melons, tomatoes or leafy greens.

The problem isn’t confined to the U.S. In 2011, nearly 4,000 people in Europe, primarily in Germany, became ill and 53 died from eating bean sprouts from a German organic farm contaminated with a rare strain of E. coli. Some of those people actually grew their own sprouts from seed — seed that originated from the implicated farm.

Although growers can take steps to reduce the risk from bacteria growing in sprouts, no method can absolutely be determined safe. Thorough cooking kills the dangerous bacteria, but few people cook raw sprouts.

The FDA says people most at risk from foodborne illness — children, the elderly, pregnant women and anyone with a weakened immune system — should avoid eating raw sprouts of any kind, including alfalfa, clover, radish and mung bean sprouts.

If you decide to eat raw sprouts anyway, the FDA offers these tips to reduce your risk:

  • Buy only sprouts kept at refrigerator temperature. Select crisp-looking sprouts with the buds attached. Avoid musty-smelling, dark or slimy-looking sprouts.
  • Refrigerate sprouts at home. Refrigerators should be set to maintain a temperature of 40 degrees F or below.
  • Wash hands with warm water and soap for at least 20 seconds before and after handling raw foods.
  • Rinse sprouts thoroughly with water before use. Rinsing can help remove surface dirt. Don’t use soap or other detergents.

3 thoughts on “Be aware of risks from eating sprouts

  1. I bought some mung beans for a stir fry i had and the next day i had awful stomach pain but was not sure of the cause because i also had some oat bran in my smoothie for breakfast but it seems like the mung beans might have been the cause

  2. Have been heating home grown broccoli sprouts from tested sources for at least 4 minutes in hot water (-65 degrees C) to increase sulforaphane immediately before blending in smoothie and eating. Have been hoping this kills majority of bacteria that might be present while increasing health benefit from sulforaphane. There are references on YouTube videos by Dr Rhonda Patrick to some studies, various years, to increasing sulforaphane but the decrease in bacteria is my hope based on temperatures to pasteurize food such as milk. Probably not sufficient to sell sprouts or give them to others as “ready to eat”.

    • Ridiculous article. Have been growing and consuming raw sprouts by the gallons (just ate 1/2 gallon of sprouted lentils) for years. I guess if it helps a person thrive the FDA says it’s dangerous 😆

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