US: Safety concerns sprout up
Posted: February 28th, 2012 - 8:16pm
Just when you thought you were doing a good thing for your health by adding more greenery to salads or sandwiches, food safety experts are cautioning against the consumption of raw sprouts.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that a recent outbreak of illnesses caused by the bacteria E. coli O26 has been linked to eating raw clover sprouts served at Jimmy John's restaurants in six Midwestern states. While the current outbreak affects less than 20 cases, mostly women in their mid 20s, raw and lightly cooked sprouts have been associated with 30 outbreaks over the past 15 years affecting over 15,000 people, including dozens of deaths.
Last summer more than 50 people died from sprout-associated outbreaks of another strain of E. coli in Europe.
“Many food safety professionals, including me, consider sprouts to be the riskiest of ready-to-eat goods,” said microbiologist Dr. Michael Doyle, director of the University of Georgia’s Food Safety Center.
Raw sprouts such as bean sprouts and alfalfa sprouts can be concentrated sources of healthy nutrients and thousands enjoy meals adorned with fresh sprouts each day without getting sick. But Doyle says some diners should be especially wary.
“This advice is particularly important for children, the elderly and persons with weakened immune systems, all of whom are at high risk of developing serious illness due to foodborne disease," Doyle said. "People in high risk categories should not eat raw sprouts. … If even a few harmful bacteria are present on the seeds, the conditions for growing sprouts are ideal for growing the bacteria to millions of cells," he said. "The bacteria can grow within the sprouts so they are entrapped and cannot be washed away or killed with disinfectants such as bleach.”
The CDC’s website warns consumers that do-it-yourself sprouting can be a source of illness too, even under sanitary conditions at home.
“I gave up eating raw sprouts," he said. "However, cooking sprouts makes them safe to eat. I still enjoy bean sprouts in Vietnamese pho soup which is served piping hot.”