February 25, 2020

New Produce Safety Rule: Sprouts Pose “A Unique Risk”

The newly proposed produce safety rule of the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) has a section devoted to sprouts because they “present a unique risk.” That’s because the ideal conditions for growing sprouts are also ideal for growing pathogens, as we have seen many times in recent years.

Salmonella Sprouts OutbreakSince 1996, there have been 30  “sproutbreaks” where sprouts contaminated with Salmonella, Listeria monocytogenes, E. coli, and other pathogens have caused outbreaks of illness. In 2012, sprouts were recalled for potential contamination at least seven times and caused one of the largest multi-state foodborne illness outbreaks of the year.  The 11-state outbreak which sickened 29 people was linked to sprouts served at a fast food sandwich chain. Also in 2012, Kroger, one of the nation’s largest grocery retailers decided to stop selling sprouts because of the risk they pose.

Some of the new requirements in the proposed rule are: requiring growers to take “measures reasonably necessary to prevent the introduction of hazards into or onto seeds or beans;” requiring that growing, harvesting, packing and holding of sprouts be done in a fully-enclosed building; “require that any food-contact surfaces that come in contact with sprouts, seeds, or beans must be cleaned and sanitized;”  required use  of a scientifically valid to reduce microorganisms before sprouting;  required testing for Listeria; and required record keeping of seed treatments  and environmental  monitoring.

The problem with sprouts is that the bacteria can be encapsulated in the seeds. That means that, when the sprouts are grown in warm, moist conditions, the bacteria can grow easily. And since there is no “kill step” when serving raw sprouts, those bacteria will make you sick.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that children, seniors, pregnant women, and those with weakened immune systems avoid eating raw sprouts of any kind and that others should thoroughly cook sprouts before eating them. Foodsafety.gov has a fact sheet on sprouts that all consumers should read.

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