In The News: Sprouts Linked to Foodborne Illnesses

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The Food & Drug Administration released a press release Monday warning the public about the dangers of Evergreen Produce brand alfalfa sprouts and spicy sprouts. The release states that these sprouts are possibly linked to 20 reported cases of Salmonellainfection, including one hospitalization.

While these cases primarily affect the places where this particular brand is distributed (Idaho, Montana and Washington State), it’s important for everyone to educate themselves about how to reduce their risk of illness from sprouts.

Alfalfa sprouts have been linked to a recent outbreak of foodborne illness.
Photo by olgucz/Courtesy

So, what exactly are sprouts? Sprouts fall under the vegetable food group. There are many different types of sprouts you can plant in your garden, including alfalfa sprouts, broccoli sprouts, clover sprouts and lentil sprouts. They are primarily used to create texture in sandwiches and salads, but some sprouts are also used in casseroles and soups.

Don’t let recent reports distract you from the many health benefits of sprouts. Sunflower sprouts, for example, are known as great sources of vitamin D, and onion sprouts are rich in vitamins A, C and D. There are even studies that show broccoli sprouts may significantly reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease.

So, sprouts can help your body in many ways, but they can also harm it if you aren’t careful. Here is what makes sprout eaters particularly susceptible to foodborne illness: Sprout seeds and beans need humid conditions to grow and prosper. Unfortunately, these balmy conditions are also perfect for the growth of common foodborne illness culprits, including salmonella, listeria and e. coli.

Growing sprouts at home where you can oversee every aspect of growth and harvest may seem like the safer option. However, the FDA warns that homegrown sprouts may not be any safer than those you can buy at the store. It only takes a few harmful bacteria to be present in or on the seed to create a big problem, and this can happen even under sanitary conditions in your garden.

Foodborne illness isn’t inevitable, however. Here are some tips to help keep your sprout use safe:

• Cook sprouts thoroughly. This kills the harmful bacteria and reduces the risk of foodborne illness.
• Request that raw sprouts be taken off your dish when visiting a restaurant or deli.
• Do not eat raw sprouts if you are a child, an elderly person, pregnant, or someone with a weakened immune system. 

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