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About Sprouts: Don't Eat Them, and Everything Else You Need to Know

The European E. coli outbreak has brought renewed attention to sprouts, and how iffy they can be in terms of safety.



About Sprouts: Don't Eat Them, and Everything Else You Need to Know

Sprouts are specially vulnerable to bacterial contamination.

RODALE NEWS, EMMAUS, PA—Tiny bean sprouts, produced on an organic farm in Germany, have been pegged as the source of the massive European E. coli outbreak that has sickened nearly 3,000 people over the last few weeks. Though the evidence is still not definitive, a study of ill and healthy adults has found that the sick were nine times more likely to have eaten sprouts from the farm in the Lower Saxony region of Germany than healthy adults. It's not the first time sprouts have been linked to foodborne illness.

THE DETAILS: The U.S. doesn't import many sprouts from Germany (in general, most sprouts sold here are grown locally and aren't exported), but we aren't immune to foodborne illness outbreaks tied to sprouts, which the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), a nonprofit food-safety group, has included sprouts in its top 10 "riskiest" foods list. Last December, an organic farm in Illinois was the source of a salmonella outbreak that made 140 people in 26 states sick, and between 1990 and 2010, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has tied at least 45 outbreaks to them.

WHAT IT MEANS: It's easy to contaminate sprouts because of the way they're produced. In many cases, the seeds themselves are contaminated with bacteria, and because warm, moist conditions are required for the seeds to sprout, those bacteria proliferate quickly. It's not always known why the seeds are contaminated in the first place, says Doug Powell, PhD, professor of food safety at Kansas State University, "but my understanding is that when the plants are growing, you can get contamination on the plant, and as it grows, the seed gets encapsulated and traps the bacteria inside." And according to a fact sheet published today by CSPI, past outbreaks have been traced back to tainted irrigation water or poor sanitation at growing facilities.

The Food and Drug Administration has recommendations for sprout producers to follow, such as decontaminating the seeds before sprouting or conducting regular microbial testing. But even with the Food Safety Modernization Act, passed this January, the agency still doesn't have the power to require sprout producers to follow those recommendations. "And until they get more money and people on staff, they can't do anything anyway," Powell says, referring to the recently passed budget that essentially gutted funding for the bill.

Organic farmers, who grew the sprouts in Germany and in the most recent U.S. sprout outbreak, can be particularly susceptible to sprout contamination. "It's a high-risk product, whether grown conventionally or organically," says Powell. "But one of the prescribed seed treatments is soaking them in 20,000 parts per million chlorine, and some organic farmers aren't comfortable doing that."

Powell's general recommendation: Don’t eat sprouts. "I don't eat them," he says. "And I don't want them brought into my kitchen." Most food-safety agencies recommend cooking sprouts first if you really want them, but Powell says that bacteria can live not just in the seed itself, but also on the outside of the sprout. For that reason, it's easy to cross-contaminate other foods you're preparing.

If you must eat sprouts, plan to cook them, and keep them in a separate container until you're ready to throw them in a pan in order to avoid cross-contamination.

Filed Under: FOOD SAFETY

Published on: June 10, 2011



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This is the first time that i

This is the first time that i heard of this. I am not sure what to think about this at all. I always thought that they were good for you.
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sprouts

My husband sprouts from organic seeds and we love to eat them on sandwiches and salads!

Organic and Food Safety

It is important to understand the facts – and spread the word – about organic and food safety.

Sprouts—regardless of their source—have been identified by FDA as requiring special food safety protocols because of the potential for pathogen growth during the sprouting process. Contaminated seed is the likely source for most reported sprout-associated outbreaks.

All food, whether conventionally or organically produced, is susceptible to E. coli. That is why strong food safety regulations and practices are critical. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), as recently as last week, and the Centers for Disease Control acknowledge there is no evidence to indicate that organic products are more likely to be contaminated by E. coli.

In the United States, organic farmers and processors have tools in their tool kits that place organic agriculture at no disadvantage in terms of food safety.

In fact, organic producers take a much broader view of “food safety,” by prohibiting harmful practices such as using toxic and persistent pesticides that have been linked to harming children’s cognitive development, the application of sewage sludge on the land, the sub-therapeutic use of antibiotics that have been linked to breeding antibiotic-resistant bacteria including virulent strains of E. coli, and the use synthetic growth hormones that have questionable effects on humans.

sprouts or any food for that matter!

We all have to remember in this day an age, eating is a risk. So many things happen between the fields and the table. Remember that just bc you eat a specific kind of food does not put you out of harms way. Just think about it.
I think going vegan or vegetarian is a wonderful idea, im even a recent convert thanks to this wonderful tool http://www.fitango.com/planstore.php?pid=9098 but no one is immune to the ecoli problem and we need to be smarter with our foods!

sprout scare

the annual sprout scare is here again. the fallacy in the logic is that the sprouting is done in 'warm' conditions that facilitate the growth of pathogens, and every armchair food writer repeats that misconception.

sprouts are best grown in cool conditions. in fact the brocolli sprouts we produce require cooling by ice to germinate.

amazingly, the uninformed press, including rodale infer that the same plant grown in dirt in outdoor uncovered spaces, is cleaner.

the problem is the food model the government fosters - anonymous producers co-mingling anonymous products at anonymous corporate big box warehouses.

you don't have anonymous sex and expect problem free results. why expect more from anonymous things you put in your mouth to eat?

About Sprouts

Grow your own sprouts, then you won't have any problems. Sprout contamination has never been linked to home sprouting. I always use organic seed and have never had a problem. The problem comes from large scale, factory produced sprouts.
I think that Dennis Miller used to say, "If you think that the 'employees must wash hands' sign on the bathroom door means there's no urine in your happy meal, you should think again."

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