Have you been eating sprouts lately? Years ago “health food” sandwiches became trendy as soon as whole wheat bread was used and alfalfa sprouts were added to the mix. Many people still limit their use of bean sprouts to use in Asian cuisine and even then, only consume alfalfa and mung bean sprouts. However there are other varieties that can be added to sandwiches as well as made into delicious salads, added to soups and casseroles. Sprouts are the very young shoots of germinated edible seeds from vegetables, beans or grains. Every seed, nut, bean and grain can be sprouted and doing so increases its nutritional value. In addition to enjoying a crunchy, flavorful sandwich and salad you will also have added vitamin C and folic acid.
A History of Sprout Recalls
Unfortunately the sprout blend industry has been plagued with recalls and food safety issues for quite some time. Since 1996 there have been at least 30 reported outbreaks of food-borne illness associated with different types of raw and lightly cooked sprouts. In 2009, salmonella contamination was linked to alfalfa sprouts and at that time, the US FDA (Food and Drug Administration) and the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) recommended consumers do not eat sprout blends containing alfalfa sprouts. In this particular incident, 31 cases of illness were reported in Michigan, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Utah, Nebraska, Iowa, Kansas and West Virginia. Some reported eating raw sprouts at restaurants, while others reported purchasing the raw sprouts at the retail level. The reason for the outbreak was related to a problem with the alfalfa seeds, as well as a failure of the sprout growers not following the FDA Sprout Guidance which recommended effective seed disinfection and testing the water used for Salmonella and E.coli.
In December 2014, Kkot Saem Sprouts of Sanaway, Washington voluntarily recalled soybean sprouts and mung bean sprouts sold under brand names Kkot Saem, Winter Blossom Bean Sprouts and Winter Blossom. Each brand had the potential to be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes, which is an organism that causes serious and sometimes fatal infections in young children, frail or elderly people and anyone with weakened immune systems. More recently, in January 2015, a total of 115 people in 12 U.S. states were infected with outbreak strains of Salmonella enteritidis. The outbreak was contributed by sprouts produced by Wonton Foods, Inc. In November 2014, Wonton Foods Inc. destroyed all remaining product through cleaning and sanitation. A few weeks back on May 8, 2015, Good Seed Inc. of Springfield, Virginia recalled all packages of soybean sprouts and mung bean sprouts as they were potentially contaminated with Listeria moncytogenes.
Good News: Not All Sprouts Are Created Equal
So how should a consumer respond? If you fit into one of the vulnerable groups, such as the elderly or young children with the potential for compromised immune systems, then CDC recommends that you do not eat raw sprouts because of the risk of contamination with Salmonella or Listeria. However, for those of us who are bean sprout lovers and are not in a vulnerable group, the Vitarock sprout Original Seed Sprouter is an excellent alternative to restaurant and retail available sprouts. The home grown recipe can provide assurance that your bean sprouts are grown under the sanitary and safe conditions of your home. Sprouts should be kept cold at no higher than 40°F (4°C) The sprout blend industry has had these recalls and food safety issues because both temperature and humidity can increase the potential for bacterial growth. If sprouts are well cooked, this is not an issue, but when consuming them raw, improper handling could potentially be problematic. You cannot control handling practices in restaurants and grocery stores, but you can control how the sprouts are handled at home. Be safe and enjoy in your own kitchen!