Sunday, July 3, 2011


Sprouted seeds such as alfalfa, bean sprout, mustard or others, are common sources of illness-causing bacteria, if they are eaten raw. Even the amount of sprouts on that healthy-looking sandwich in the photo can make you ill. Or, that tiny sprinkling in your salad.

A common The reason is that the seeds used for sprouting themselves carry bacteria. These bacteria then multiply rapidly during the moist and warm sprouting process (see previous posts). So what, if anything, can be done at the sprout-farm level to reduce risks for people who eat sprouts raw?

Sprout growers are advised to use good seed harvesting and decontamination practices (chemicals, heat, irradiaton), and it has been shown that such practices can reduce the numbers of bacteria present. In the U.S., the FDA issued this advice to farmers in 1999 after a bad series of outbreaks in sprouts nationwide. These are recommendations - not requirements. Not all sprout farmers follow them (although it is believed that most do).

Research has also shown that they are not 100% effective even when followed. Some bacteria are likely to remain unharmed and ready to multiply, particularly if they are the hardier E.coli or Salmonella. Unfortunately, these are also likely to be more deadly.

For instance, even when alfalfa seeds carrying E.coli bacteria are treated for three minutes with a 20,000 ppm active chlorine solution, some of the bacteria have still been found to be alive. The same thing happens when solutions of other chemical sanitizers such as calcium hypochlorite, trisodium phosphate, alcohol and hydrogen peroxide are used. Or, when seeds are heated to high temperatures.

The problem is that at certain temperatures or at high concentrations of chemicals it becomes a tradeoff between killing all the bacteria, and destroying the ability of the seeds to germinate properly.

Spraying of the sprouts with chemical disinfectant solutions during actual germination doesn't work completely either. The chemicals may not reach all the bacteria, which could be hiding in the roots or in clumps of sprouts.

Besides, who want "super-healthy" sprouts to be loaded with chemicals? Or, irradiated and limp?

So far we haven't found the ideal solution. So it's up to us to be smart consumers. Don't eat raw sprouts.

To your good health,

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