Current E. coli and Salmonella outbreaks are the latest additions to a long list of food safety problems linked to to sprouts. Public health officials consider sprouts a known risk, but as dozens of recalls and outbreaks show, the health risk associated with raw sprouts may not clear to consumers.
Sprouts have been recalled an average of four times a year since 2012. And since 2006, there have been more than 40 outbreaks linked to sprouts contaminated with Salmonella, E. coli and Listeria. Often, the source of the problem is traced to the seeds so washing the sprouts won’t eliminate the source of bacteria. The bacteria can actually be inside the seeds, so treatments and washing them does not work.
“Given the risks, sprout producers need to be more measured in touting the health benefits of their product,” said Eric Hageman, a noted food safety attorney.
An ongoing Salmonella outbreak, linked to sprouts produced by Sweetwater Farms in Kansas, has sickened 13 people in Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri and Pennsylvania. Five people have been hospitalized in that outbreak. And an ongoing E.coli outbreak, linked to sprouts produced by Jack and the Green Sprouts of River Falls, Wisconsin has sickened nine people in Minnesota and Wisconsin, hospitalizing two patients.
In 2014, there were three “sproutbreaks,” each caused by a different pathogen. A Salmonella Enteritidis outbreak sickened 115 people in 12 states; an E.coli O121 outbreak sickened 19 people in six states; and a two-state Listeria sproutbreak killed two people and sickened three others.
In 2012, an E. coli O26 outbreak linked to clover sprouts served at Jimmy John’s sickened 29 people in 11 states. That same year, Kroger, one of the nation’s largest grocery retailers, decided to stop selling sprouts because of the risk they pose. In 2011, another Salmonella Enteritidis sprout break occurred sickening 25 people in four states.
In 2010, there were two multistate sproutbreaks. One, caused by Salmonella serotype I 4,,12:i:- sickened 140 people in 26 states. The other, caused by Salmonella Newport, sickened 44 people in 11 states. And in 2009, a Salmonella St Paul outbreak sickened 235 people in 14 states.
Food safety experts recommend that people just avoid raw sprouts, especially if you are in a high risk group. Thoroughly cooking sprouts is the only way to ensure they are safe to eat.