If You’re Still Eating Raw Sprouts, You May Want To Rethink That

You can eat two out of three of these. (Amy Adoyzie)

Wash the onions and scallions to avoid cross-contamination. (Amy Adoyzie)

Sprouts are a tasty addition to a salad, a sandwich, or a stir fry, but they’re also grown in water and usually eaten raw. That makes them excellent vehicles to bring a variety of foodborne pathogens straight from the farm or processing plant to your mouth. Over a year ago, we wondered whether everyone should just stop buying and eating sprouts, and since then, the sprout-growing industry hasn’t done anything to make us change our minds.

At this moment, there are two sprout-related investigations happening:

At the beginning of the week, the Food and Drug Administration announced a Salmonella outbreak in alfalfa sprouts from Sweetwater Farm in Kansas. Thirteen people have confirmed illnesses linked to this outbreak, and five of them have been hospitalized.

In Minnesota and Wisconsin, there’s also an E. coli outbreak that has been linked to alfalfa sprouts. Nine people have been confirmed sick from that outbreak, and two were hospitalized. All came in contact with alfalfa sprouts from the wonderfully named company Jack and the Green Sprouts.

In healthy people, E. coli produces unpleasant symptoms like bloody diarrhea and stomach cramps, but in people who are very young, very old, or who have compromised immune systems, it can cause life-threatening complications. Pretty much the same can be said for salmonellosis, actually, though the complications are different, and bloody diarrhea is less likely.

Food safety attorney Bill Marler told NPR that he has been campaigning for a warning label on sprouts for years, and he won’t eat them. Experts say that since seeds need moisture and warmth to sprout, and those are also the ideal conditions for growing bacteria, there simply isn’t a way to germ-proof this crop.

Should Sprouts Come With A Warning Label? [NPR]
E. coli outbreak sickening 9 linked to Wis. alfalfa sprouts [Star-Tribune]
Multistate Outbreak of Salmonella Muenchen Infections Linked to Alfalfa Sprouts Produced by Sweetwater Farms [FDA]
Sprout Safety Alliance [Official Site]