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Food Safety News

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Publisher’s Platform: Warning Labels for Sprouts?

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With well over 40 outbreaks linked to sprouts over the last few decades, it should come as no surprise that the 33 dead and more than 3,000 ill (789 with HUS) in Europe and the United States have been linked to German-grown, locally consumed organic sprouts.

In fact, the Chemical and Veterinary Investigation Office of Rhine-Ruhr-Wupper has found E. coli O104 in an opened package of sprouts retrieved from the trash of a household in Rhein-Sieg-Kreis. Two of the three family members in the household ate the sprouts and were infected with the outbreak pathogen.

The sprouts came from Gärtnerhoff Bienenbüttel GmbH from Lower Saxony. John Remmel, Consumer Protection Minister for North Rhine-Westphalia, cautions that the new finding is not definitive, as the package of sprouts had already been opened. Additional studies are still in progress. However, earlier Reinhard Burger, president of the Robert Koch Institute, Germany’s national disease control center, said the pattern of the outbreak had produced enough evidence to draw that conclusion even though [at the time] no tests of sprouts from an organic farm in Lower Saxony had come back positive for the E. coli strain behind the outbreak. Warnings have been lifted against lettuce, tomatoes and cucumbers. On Friday, Burger said at a press conference with the heads of Germany’s Federal Institute for Risk Assessment and Federal Office for Consumer Protection: “It is the sprouts.”

The CDC almost agrees with me:

Sprouts Not Healthy Food for Everyone

Children, the elderly, and persons whose immune systems are not functioning well should not eat raw sprouts, because current treatments of seeds and sprouts cannot get rid of all bacteria present.

Persons who are at high risk for complications from foodborne illness should probably not eat raw sprouts, according to an article in the current issue of Emerging Infectious Diseases, CDC’s peer-reviewed journal, which tracks new and reemerging infectious diseases worldwide.

Although sprouts are often considered a “health food,” the warm, humid conditions needed for growing sprouts from seeds are also ideal for bacteria to flourish. Salmonella, E. coli, and other bacteria can grow to high levels without affecting the appearance of the sprouts.

Researchers have treated both seeds and sprouts with heat or washed them in solutions of chlorine, alcohol, and other chemicals. Some of these disinfectants reduced the levels of bacteria, but a potential hazard remained, especially for persons with weak immune systems. High temperatures that would kill the bacteria on the seeds would also keep them from sprouting. Until an effective way is found to prevent illness from sprouts, they should be eaten with caution, if at all.

And, did I tell you it is “Sprout Month?”

© Food Safety News
  • Ben Mark

    did Bill Marler in his research institute a test with Colloidal Silver. Put the harvested sprouts before eating in water with a few drops of Colloidal Silver and wait for 4-5 minutes. Since I do this with everthing I eat raw or even handle, like meat and chicken I don’t get sick anymore.
    Just test it out, you may can save a lot of lives.

  • Anthony Boutard

    A few years ago, we sold a couple tons of clover seed. We were told the seed tested free of pathogens and was suitable for sprouting, so we received a premium price. The fact is that we never thought of or handled those seeds as food, and this is the problem with the seeds used for sprouting.
    The sprouting industry needs to develop harvesting, cleaning and handling protocols consistent with the use of the seed as a raw food, rather than skimming off seed harvested as a general commodity. The clover seed we sold was swathed (cut and piled in a windrow) and left on the ground for several days. This allowed the seed to cure and increased the recovered yield. But it also takes a clean seed head and puts it into contact with the ground where birds and rodents can pick through it. Perhaps a fox or coyote was nosing about for a mouse or vole. Radish and other seeds are handled in a similar fashion.
    After several days of lying in the field, the seed was threshed in the early morning while still moist with the dew, which also improves the extraction of the seed. The combine that threshed it was stored in an open shed where rodents and birds gleaned it for scraps of last years seeds. For most purposes, this is not a problem. The USDA sets tolerances for the number of rodent droppings in grain. But for seed destined as a raw food, not a good idea. Cleaning a large combine is difficult and takes hours.
    In addition, off-the-shelf combines are hard on the seed. Modern combines are designed and operated to extract as much seed as possible. A cracked or chipped seed coat is not a concern for somebody buying the seed for growing forage or a cover crop.
    Until our seed was sold, no one who handled the seed considered it food, and certainly not something that would be consumed raw. Unfortunately, the seed industry has relied on post-harvest disinfection of commodity grade seeds instead of developing clean production and harvesting methods.
    The sprouting industry needs to develop harvesting techniques and/or breeding lines so it can avoid the swathing step. Leaving the seed on the ground creates opportunity for contamination. They need to promote the use of smaller combines that can be cleaned and sanitized easily. The combine head, the part that cuts off the seed heads, should be set high to avoid ground contact. The combine should be stored in a rodent free storage shed between jobs. There are small, research combines that are designed for easy cleaning and gentle handling of the seed. Combines used for popcorn are designed to handle the seed gently, a cracked kernel won’t pop.
    If the seed used for sprouting is treated as a raw food from the field to the sprouting chamber, the industry will thrive. It means developing a direct relationship with the farmers rather than buying seed as a commodity.
    I love eating sprouts and hate to think of them as a hazardous food.
    Anthony Boutard
    Ayers Creek Farm

  • mary

    Is this quote from the 1999 article? Your blog says ‘current issue’ which is in the CDC press release.

  • mrothschild

    mary: I don’t understand your question. The entry you are commenting on was published in June.

  • Mary Rothschild

    mary: I don’t understand your question. The entry you are commenting on was published in June.