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Publisher’s Platform: 75 sproutbreaks later, fresh raw sprouts still not safe

Opinion

axx-sprout2-13-16_9Thanks to my friends at Barfblog for keeping track of the Sproutbreaks over the last couple of decades. These outbreaks have been some of the largest and most deadly in the world.

Now we are seeing two being reported in the United States in the last few weeks.

  • A total of nine people infected with the outbreak strain of E. coli O157 have been reported from two states: Minnesota has seven sick and Wisconsin two. Illnesses started on dates ranging from Jan. 17 to Feb. 8. Ill people range in age from 17 years to 84, with a median age of 28. Sixty-six percent of ill people are female. Two ill people have been hospitalized. Collaborative investigative efforts of state, local, and federal public health and regulatory officials indicate that alfalfa sprouts produced by Jack & The Green Sprouts of River Falls, Wisconsin are a likely source of this outbreak.
  • A total of 13 people infected with the outbreak strain of Salmonella Muenchen have been reported from four states: Kansas has five, Missouri three, Oklahoma three and Pennsylvania two. Illnesses started on dates ranging from Dec.1, 2015, to Jan. 21 this year. Ill people range in age from 18 years to 73, with a median age of 51. Ninety-two percent of ill people are female. Among 13 ill people with available information, five reported being hospitalized. , No deaths have been reported. Collaborative investigative efforts of state, local, and federal public health and regulatory officials indicate that alfalfa sprouts produced by Sweetwater Farms of Inman, KS, are a likely source of this outbreak.

As far back as September 1998, the FDA issued a warning against sprouts urging:

Children, pregnant women and the elderly should not eat alfalfa sprouts until growers find a way to reduce the risk of a potentially deadly bacteria that infects some sprouts, the Food and Drug Administration said this week. The FDA, which is investigating sprout industry practices, said children, the elderly and people with weakened immune systems should avoid eating sprouts. The agency’s statement, issued Monday, repeated similar but little-noticed advice the U.S. Centers for Disease Control gave to doctors and researchers a year ago.

Here is the CDC warning :

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.

Need I say more?

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