Considering the Possible Dangers of Sprouting
Are Raw Sprouts Safe To Eat?
This question has been raised many times, and there remains some controversy over how it can best be answered. It is generally agreed that, nutritionally speaking, it is hard to beat sprouts. The problem lies in the potential for food poisoning which first became evident in 1998 when outbreaks of serious food borne illnesses were traced to contaminated sprouts. The FDA (Food and Drug Administration) advised consumers that risks had become evident relating to the consumption of raw sprouts. The FDA recommended that children, older people and those with weakened immune systems should avoid them, unless cooked.
A year later, they expanded their warning to cover everyone else, although it was again confirmed that sprouts, properly cooked, seemed to pose no danger. And what was it that concerned the experts at the FDA? E coli and Salmonella. It was believed that seeds became contaminated by animals in the field or from the use of animal manure. The biggest danger was thought to lie in alfalfa sprouts, but it was not limited to them.
The reaction was immediate. The sprout industry, regulatory agencies, and the academic community pooled their efforts to improve the safety of the product, including the implementation of better manufacturing practices, establishing guidelines for seed handling, safe sprout production and chemical disinfection of seeds prior to sprouting.
It was clear that the seeds themselves, and not their sprouts, were the key. If bacteria are present in the seeds or beans, they can grow to dangerous levels during sprouting, for sprouting requires high moisture and prefers high temperature which also happens to be an ideal environment for bacterial growth. This will happen even under sanitary conditions, meaning sprouting your own at home does not decrease the risk.
Thus, seeds destined for sprouting are now to be handled differently than seeds meant for crops. This was often not the case prior to 1998. This handling includes safer cleaning and storage practices. As well, sampling and testing for contamination is considered a “must” by industry leaders. Unfortunately, complete decontamination of seeds or sprouts is a difficult chore since bacteria can hide away in tiny cracks on the seeds and thereby survive processing.
Nevertheless, many industry leaders are pleased with the progress that has been made, and feel that the public can be assured that, if proper procedures are followed in the seed preparation, then the dangers of contamination are minimal. Green sprouts, they contend, can be produced with very low risk.
For even greater peace of mind, however, one expert, Dr. James Hefley, advises that once your sprouted seeds are ready for harvest, “just soak your sprouts in a bowl filled with 3% (the usual strength) hydrogen peroxide for 20 minutes, drain off the hydrogen peroxide, rinse the sprouts in boiled then cooled water, and refrigerate for 30 minutes before serving. They will come out nice and crisp and free of pathogens.”