Sprouts - Sprouting
Sprouts – those
crunchy and healthy newborn plants that first appeared in the
sixties have become a standard item in salad bars and produce
departments across the country. An increasing frequency of sprout-related
food borne illness has accompanied their increasing presence
in supermarkets and restaurants.
Sprouts are germinating
form of seeds and beans and are easy to produce. They require
no soil, only water and cool temperature. They emerge in 2 –
7 days, depending on the type of seed or bean. In addition to
raw alfalfa sprouts, other varieties include clover, sunflower,
broccoli, mustard, radish, garlic, dill and pumpkin, as well
as various beans, such as mung, kidney, pinto, navy and soy
and wheat berries. While versatile, sprouts also are favored
for their nutritional value. Like other fresh produce, sprouts
are low in calories and fat and provide substantial amounts
of key nutrients, such as vitamin C, foliate and fiber.
The most common
kind, alfalfa sprouts, has been linked to a number of food borne
illness outbreaks worldwide. Since 1995, health officials have
attributed 13 food borne illness outbreaks to sprouts. Ten of
these outbreaks occurred in the United States, resulting in
illnesses in approximately 1,000 Americans and at least 1 death.
The largest outbreak occurred in Japan in 1996; 9,000 people
were sickened and 17 died after eating radish sprouts contaminated
with E. Coli 0157:H7. Most of the outbreaks have involved sprouts
contaminated with either E. Coli 0157:H7 or Salmonella.
It is believed
that the seeds from which sprouts are derived are often the
source of contamination. The seeds may become contaminated by
animals in the field or during post-harvest storage. Mishandling
of sprouts during production, packing or distribution has not
been implicated as the source of sprout contamination. However,
bacteria already present in the sprouting seed can continue
to thrive in conditions in which poor food handling techniques
are practiced, for example, lack of proper refrigeration, infected
food handlers and dirty/unsanitary sprouting facilities.
three 1998 outbreaks involving raw alfalfa sprouts, the Food
and Drug Administration reaffirmed a warning that had been issued
by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 1997. It
urges people at high risk, children, the elderly and people
with compromised immune systems to avoid raw alfalfa sprouts
until safe methods are identified and put in place. High on
the list of possible strategies was decontamination of sprout
seeds by chemical treatment with calcium hypochlorite, irradiation,
heat treatment as in pasteurization process, Hazard Analysis
and Critical Control Points program for sprout growers, good
agricultural and manufacturing practices. Another option might
be to include a list of safe handling practices or a mandatory
warning labels on sprout packages.
How to buy and
eat sprouts safely:
- If you belong
to a high risk group, avoid raw sprouts.
- Buy only sprouts
kept at refrigerated temperature, select crisp sprouts with
the buds attached. Avoid musty-smelling, slimy sprouts.
sprouts at home, no higher that 40°F.
- Wash hands
with soap and warm water before and after handling any raw
- Rinse sprouts
thoroughly with water before use.
Please call the
Bureau of Consumer Health Services, at
713/794.9200 for more information about this, or any other food-safety
call the Bureau of Consumer Health Services
at 713-794-9200 for more information on any other food-safety
to the Food Safety health tips page
the HDHHS Bureau of Consumer Health Services