By April 27, 2012 Read More →

Food Safety and Sprouting

I remember eating alfalfa sprouts as a kid on sandwiches and in salads.  My mom was always big on health foods and introduced me to a lot of foods that are not common to the everyday diet.  Later on, I stumbled upon Ezekiel 4:9 Bread at the grocery store.  It is made with sprouted grains according to a recipe given by the Lord to the prophet Ezekiel.  It turns out, that a combination of the sprouted grains in this particular Bible verse results in a high quality, complete protein.  I ate this bread for a while (while I could still afford it) and I really did feel like I was eating something good and highly nutritious.  More recently, within the past year or so, I have been researching sprouting as a way to ensure food production during tough times.  In fact, while watching an episode of Jericho on Netflix, a family of survivors helped sustain themselves by eating sprouts.

As great as sprouting may be for those who want the health benefits of eating raw grains, it came to my attention that there are possible dangers involved in growing and eating raw sprouts.  After a conversation I had with a coworker several years back, it made me think twice about eating raw sprouts.  He said that the number one cause of food-borne illness is sprouts.  They have been the cause of some of the worst food poisoning outbreaks, resulting in serious illness, kidney failure and even death.

That really surprised me.  When I think of food-borne illnesses, I usually think of meat and fish.  Usually the cause of illnesses associated with meat and fish is that blood or juice from the meat can cross contaminate other foods through unwashed countertops or not thoroughly cooking meats.  But what about sprouts?  Bacteria can be present in the seeds themselves prior to sprouting, making their way through cracks in the seeds’ shell.  Since sprouts are eaten raw, bacteria can have a field day.  And it only takes one contaminated seeds to contaminate an entire batch of sprouts.  What’s more is that the same conditions that are necessary for the growth of your sprouts are the same for the growth of harmful bacteria.

So are you safer growing your own sprouts?  Since the bacteria are present in the seeds even before sprouting, that would be a no.  What if the seeds are acquired from an organic farm? Past outbreaks have been traced to seeds that have come from organic farms.  So again, no.  What about washing the seeds thoroughly before sprouting? Since the bacteria may be on the inside of the seed, those bacteria will not be removed by washing the seeds.

If that is the case, what can be done to ensure food safety when eating sprouts?  The answer: cooking them thoroughly.  Bean sprouts are often used in asian-style stir fry recipes, and they taste great.  But what about those who want to eat raw sprouts for the health benefits?  Eat on, but realize that there is a risk in eating raw sprouts.  I recommend that small children, the elderly and those with weak immune systems stay clear of raw sprouts at all costs.

I personally am looking forward to beginning my experiment in growing sprouts at home.  But I will not be eating them raw.  I will be looking for recipes online, and try to get different ideas for cooking them.  Yes, I am aware that people eat raw sprouts all the time with no ill effects. Heck, I have even eaten them myself several times.  It is just my personal opinion that the possible dangers of eating raw sprouts outweigh the nutritional benefits.

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11 Comments on "Food Safety and Sprouting"

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  1. Marsha Donaldson says:

    I have never heard of any cases of food poisoning from raw sprouts that were grown by individuals, only those from commercial growers.   Not saying it’s not possible, but if rinsed properly, it’s unlikely.  Sometimes I will add a few drops of Grapefruit seed extract to the final rinse to further insure the growth of pathogens before I refrigerate them, and always use them within a few days.  They are just like any other raw vegetable and could spoil.  One of the main benefits to sprouting are the enzymes, and heating them above 115 degrees destroys them.  

    • Marsha Donaldson says:

      I just looked at my bags of sprouting seeds from Handy Pantry and they all say “100% Certified Organic, High Germination, Microbial Tested”.   So if the theory is that the microbes get into the seed, this should help.  

  2. This was a very educational article. Thanks for sharing and for your insights. 

  3. Marcella says:

    Try rinsing them in a diluted peroxide solution, that is actually how alot of bigger spouters do it

  4. CherB says:

    I think that if you start bulk growing sprouts, there is a chance that some sort of bacteria might try to set up a habitat so I would think trying to sterilize between batches might be a good idea.  Considering also where you are growing them also.  I would like to know other people’s experiences of when they had some sprouts go bad.  I do like animals in nature also and nibble a small piece, then proceed to enjoy.  Our tongues are good detectors when a flavor is off.

    • I use sprouting trays and wash them with dishwashing liquid and hot water between batches. The key seems to be making sure that you rinse the sprouts at least 3 times a day while growing them and then refrigerating for no more than a few days. I also rinse my sprouts after they’ve been in the refrigerator before eating them. You will know if they’ve gone bad, just like any other veggie–kind of sour smell.

  5. I think you know yourself and family’s needs and the secret to not eating unsafe sprouts is to do them in the size of batches that your family will eat at a good pace. But besure you start a fresh batch before the other one is gone.

  6. CherB says:

    I read the reference in the bible and it listed several grains. The last one I was not familiar with. You also mentioned that its best if the grains are sprouted first. I know sprouting helps to allow nutrients locked in the grains to be more digestable for us, but did they do this process back then, and unfortunately they did not give the total recipe, but I guess with research on complete protein combinations, one would become wiser with this knowledge. How do you know which combines with which. I only learned about succatash as a child (beans and corn combinations) that were put on our plates. For such a long time I never was told that the vegetables were mixed for a reason but probably color interest. I now know better yet there must be some combinations that work better than others.

    Long ago I also read that native indians were able to get nutrients out of ground corn because of the limestone rock or the grinding process released nutrients that normally we cant get just by eating corn. I have read many references but no specific method as to what unlocks the needed nutrients. I can only guess that then, nature allowed the first ones to try this to crave the corn processed in this special way. No education other than trial or just impulsively trying something and suddenly having an eye opening moment. Anyone have any input on this?

  7. Marcella says:

    Also, you don’t know what kind of ‘care’ the people who got food poisoning gave. Some people are very sloppy and careless. I have sprouted many many times over the years and have not had a food related illness. One auto sprouter I used to make big batches actually had you add a cup of food grade peroxide in each water change, not sure perhaps it was a couple gallons. Peroxide is just water with an extra oxygen molecule, BTW when left out unsealed it loses that extra oxygen and becomes water again, thats why it begins to weaken as soon as you open the bottle.

  8. Marcella says:

    Also, I’ve been a nurse for 36 years and have never heard of ‘sprouts’ being the number one cause of food-born illness. I believe this co-worker was side stepping mishandling of meat. In my school they told us it was mishandling of chicken first, then ecoli from red meat second. Never a mention of sprouts even all the way thru grad school!

    I recently made a good batch and again just rinsed with diluted peroxide and no problems

  9. CherB says:

    I am so glad others are into sprouting for sources of good nutrients.  I remember one time someone said they did not grow zucchini because it was a “nothing” vegetable…Since they grew rapidly and were so juicy inside, and mostly green skinned and somewhat clear inside, they didnt contribute much to our nutrition.  Most people feel the same about celery since its a 0 calorie vegetable.  But recently they are finding out that these vegetables do in fact play a particularly important role in our diets more than we first perceived.  I have actually craved celery and love it in salads.  One year I had some great celery but a bit tougher than desired.  I still chopped and cooked it up for soups and  other meals.   

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