Raw sprouts update

sprouts_resizedOver the past few years, raw sprouts have been linked to a number of foodborne illnesses including outbreaks of Salmonella Enteritidis, E. coli O104 and Listeria. These outbreaks sickened thousands of people around the world and were also responsible for several deaths. This led to many restaurants and grocery stores removing raw sprouts from their menus and their shelves, but the question on why they are so dangerous is often not understood.

A recent article explains that because of their susceptibility for pathogens, raw sprouts are categorized as “potentially hazardous foods” or PHFs. Meats, dairy products, cut melons, cut tomatoes and cut leafy greens also fall under this category. The best way to ensure the safety of these products is to cook them thoroughly to a temperature above 135°F.

In order for sprouts to grow, a process referred to as “seeding,” conditions need to be just right. However, it is in these same conditions that pathogens can develop. When they do develop, this happens in the seed of the sprout, which is then sold to farms elsewhere where the the growing process is completed.

According to the article, The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued an official guidance in 1999 on the topic of sprouts because of their potential harm. The guidance warned that all parties involved in the production of sprouts—seed producers, seed conditioners, and distributors, and sprout producers—should be aware that seeds and sprouted seeds have been recognized as an important cause of foodborne illness and they should be produced using Good Agricultural Practices (GAPs).

These practices include seeds being conditioned, stored, and transported in a manner that minimizes the likelihood that they will be contaminated with pathogens. For the potential grower, the article states that it is important to make sure the company sourcing your seeds is following these guidelines and has a food safety plan that is part of your farm’s food safety plan.

In addition, growers of sprouts should be aware of the regulations governing food production and sprout production specifically, and work to reduce contamination. This can be done by having a hazard analysis and critical control points plan, or HACCP plan. Growers should also use good sanitation practices as a standard operating procedure to maintain control throughout all stages of sprout production.

The article explains that good sanitation means that storage facilities are routinely monitored for rodent activity and rodent urine, seed batches are routinely tested for incidence of Salmonella and E. coli prior to sprouting, water used in the process has been tested to ensure its safety, health and hygiene controls are in place for workers, dedicated tools are in place for safely harvesting sprouts, and the temperature of sprouts after harvest is closely monitored until delivery to the end user.

With this information in mind the articles goes on to explain that if proper precautions are followed, sprouts and other PHFs can be safe to consume.

Neogen offers several products to help ensure the safety of food and how it is produced. For more information, click here.

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