LiveScience reporter Sara G. Miller covered a recent FDA presentation on the risks of sprouts at IDWeek. According to Miller, “sprout contamination continues to pose a serious public health concern,” the researchers from the Food and Drug Administration wrote in their report.
According to FDA’s Coordinated Outbreak Response and Evaluation Network (CORE), from 1996 to August 2016, there were 48 outbreaks of illness were associated with fresh sprouts, the researchers found.
Alfalfa sprouts were the most common culprit during the study period, with 30 outbreaks. There were seven outbreaks linked to clover sprouts, six outbreaks linked to mung bean sprouts, two outbreaks linked to unspecified sprouts, two outbreaks linked to multiple sprout types and one outbreak linked to a food ingredient called sprouted chia powder.
Sprouts carried a number of different types of bacteria, the researchers found. Salmonella was implicated in the greatest number of outbreaks, at 35, followed by Escherichia coli at 11 and Listeria with two outbreaks, according to the report. Of the three sprout-related deaths during the study period, two were attributed to Salmonella and one to Listeria.
Sprouts “certainly rank up there” among types of produce that have been linked to outbreaks, said Kathleen Gensheimer, the director of the FDA’s Coordinated Outbreak Response and Evaluation Network and the lead author of the study.
Sprouts’ propensity to harbor dangerous bacteria has to do with how they are grown, Gensheimer told LiveScience. To grow sprouts, seeds are placed in water in a warm, humid environment that is ideal for rapid bacterial growth, she said.
Currently, the U.S. government says that people who are the most at risk for infectious diseases should avoid eating raw or lightly cooked sprouts of any kind, Gensheimer said. This includes children, the elderly, pregnant women and people with weakened immune systems.
The findings on sprouts were presented on Oct. 28 at IDWeek 2016, a meeting in New Orleans of several organizations focused on infectious diseases.
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