Food Safety - Raw Seed Sprouts
The California Department of Health Services recognizes raw-seed sprouts to be a potentially hazardous food. Raw-seed sprouts have been shown to support the rapid and progressive growth of infectious microorganisms such as Salmonella spp. and Escherichia coli 0157:H7. Since 1995, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has also recognized raw-seed sprouts as a source of foodborne illness in the United States. In addition, the FDA has listed raw-seed sprouts as a “Potentially Hazardous Food” in the 1999 Federal Model Food Code. Who is most at risk? Salmonella and E. coli 0157:H7 bacteria can affect everyone. However young children, the elderly and people with weak immune systems (e.g., pregnant women, people undergoing chemotherapy, AIDS patients, etc.) are most susceptible to complications from illness caused by Salmonella and E. coli 0157:H7. What are the symptoms of Salmonella and E. coli 0157:H7 infection? Although infections with Salmonella and E. coli O157 can cause serious illness, the illness is generally self-limiting in most healthy adults.
People who experience symptoms of salmonellosis or E. coli infection should contact their doctor immediately. How do sprouts become contaminated? Public health scientists believe that the seeds used for sprouting are the most likely source of contamination. Salmonella or E. coli bacteria can lodge in tiny seed cracks and are difficult to eliminate. These bacteria can multiply during sprouting in warm, humid conditions. In most reported sprout-related outbreaks, the likely source of contamination was the seed. However, unsafe food practices have also contributed to the contamination of sprouts. What is being done? The sprout industry has been working in cooperation with government, academia, and other industry segments to enhance the safety of its product. These efforts have focused primarily on seed treatment strategies, good manufacturing practices, and sanitation. What can consumers do? As with many other foods, proper cooking kills bacteria. The risk of foodborne illness is significantly reduced when sprouts are cooked in soups, stir-fries and other dishes. FYI: Alfalfa sprouts, the most common form of raw-seed sprouts available in the market place, have been the cause of most reported sprout-related foodborne illness outbreaks. Other types of sprouts that have also been implicated in reported sprout-related foodborne illness outbreaks are radish sprouts, clover sprouts, sunflower sprouts and mung bean sprouts. What can retail facilities do to protect the public? In order to minimize the contamination of sprouts due to unsafe food practices, retail food facility operators handling, storing or serving raw-seed sprouts should operate with the following guidelines: