— OPINION —
According to the CDC, as of December 29, 2022, a total of 15 people infected with the outbreak strain of Salmonella have been reported from three states Nebraska (8), Oklahoma (1) and South Dakota (6). Illnesses started on dates ranging from December 2, 2022, to December 13, 2022 linked to SunSprout alfalfa sprouts. That number is likely and undercount and that number will likely increase.
I have lost track of the numbers of “Sproutbreaks” over the years linked to E. coli, Salmonella or Listeria. My fiends at Barblog have been tracking “Sproutbreaks” for years: “We document at least 55 sprout-associated outbreaks occurring worldwide affecting a total of 15,233 people since 1988. A comprehensive table of sprout-related outbreaks can be found here.“
Is it past time for a warning label for sprouts?
Perhaps the labeling could mirror the requirements now found on unpasteurized juices?
WARNING: This product may contain harmful bacteria that can cause serious illness in children, the elderly, and persons with weakened immune systems.
Or, perhaps a bit further?
As far back as September 1998, 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.
I think it is time for a warning label — past time. Here is my idea: