April 25, 2018

Restaurants Dumping Raw Sprouts

After many recalls of sprouts for possible bacterial contamination and several outbreaks of foodborne illness linked to sprouts, restaurants across the country are removing the product from their menus.

  • Jimmy John’s Gourmet Sandwich franchise is no longer serving sprouts. The decision was made after the recent outbreak of E. coli 026 in five states.
  • Jason’s Deli dropped sprouts until at least 2013 as a food safety measure.
  • Erbert and Gerbert’s Sandwich shops have followed suit.
  • The Winn-Dixie chain recently went above and beyond a recall of LEASA Alfalfa Sprouts, removing all of that company’s product instead of just the sprouts named in the recall, “out of an abundance of caution.”

The problem with sprouts starts in the field. The product itself is easily contaminated, since bacteria on the flower itself becomes encapsulated in the seed as it matures.

There is currently no completely effective, FDA-approved method to remove the bacteria, short of irradiation. And irradiation reduces seed germination, making that treatment impractical.

The growing environment for sprouts, which is warm and moist, encourages bacterial growth. Even if the water used to grow the sprouts is completely sterile, the bacteria within the seeds are released as it sprouts, potentially contaminating the whole batch.

The FDA recommends that no one in a high risk group consume raw sprouts because of their potential for contamination. And the Advisory Committee on the Microbiological Safety of Food (ACMSF) questioned the safety of sprouts in general.

Sprouts growers have called on the FDA to set new safety rules. That agency has conducted several studies on the issue, but hasn’t issued new guidance since 1998.

Until someone comes up with a way to produce bacteria-free seeds, you may want to think about pulling raw sprouts from your menus.

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