While sprouts have been a staple in Chinese cuisine for centuries, over the decades they have been gaining popularity in many Americans’ diets due to their uniquely sharp taste, as well as possible health benefits. While these “garnishes” are an excellent source of Magnesium, Calcium, Potassium, Folate and Beta-carotene, they have also often been found to be a source of bacteria that cause food poisoning. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) listed sprouts on the page “Foods That Can Cause Food Poisoning”, sharing the cause for concern as “…warm, humid conditions needed to grow the sprouts are ideal for germs to grow. Eating raw or slightly sprouts, such as alfalfa, bean, or any other sprout, may lead to food poisoning from Salmonella, E. coli, or Listeria.”
After being identified as a possible source for food poisoning by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in the 1990’s, sprouts were reported to have caused at least one food poisoning outbreak every year from1995 to 2011. Sprouts in more recent years have also been linked to restaurants like Jimmy Johns.
What can be done?
In order to continue enjoying delicious sprouts, consumers can take a few simple precautionary steps to decrease the likelihood of food poisoning.
- Store sprouts at the temperature of at least 48 degrees Fahrenheit or lower. This works to prohibit dangerous germs from multiplying.
- Avoid purchasing sprouts that are slimy, or have a pungent odor. These are signs of rotting, and the growth of bacteria.
- Thoroughly rinse sprouts before preparation, with warm water.
- When possible, cook sprouts thoroughly before consumption. Although it may be tempting to eat them raw to maintain a crunchy texture, the only safe option is to fully cook them.
While sprouts have been responsible for Salmonella, E. coli and Listeria outbreaks for many years, there are simple methods that can be used to prevent contamination and poisoning from these garnishes. As with many foods, sprouts can be enjoyed with less likelihood of food poisoning through a bit of precaution and intentional sanitization.