Sprouts are germinated seeds.
Classed as either green or bean sprouts, they are commonly used in sandwiches, salads and Asian dishes.
Green sprouts are often consumed raw and include:
- alfalfa sprouts
- broccoli sprouts
- clover sprouts
- onion sprouts
- radish sprouts
- snowpea sprouts
- sunflower sprouts
Bean sprouts include:
- mung beans sprouts
- soybean sprouts
Sprouts can be contaminated with bacteria such as E.coli, Listeria, and Salmonella.
People with low or compromised immune systems should not eat any type of raw or lightly cooked, still crunchy sprouts.
Risks of food poisoning are greatest for people with lower immunity including:
- children younger then 5 years
- people over 70 years of age, with certain underlying conditions
- people with low or compromised immune systems which can result from some health conditions, illnesses and medicines
- pregnant women.
Each year 4.1 million Australians get food poisoning.
While all raw and lightly cooked – still crunchy – sprouts can pose some risk, alfalfa, mung bean and clover sprouts are most commonly linked to food poisoning.
To reduce the risk of food poisoning from sprouts:
- people with lower immunity should avoid all raw and lightly cooked sprouts
- avoid any sprout that's dark in colour or smells musty
- if buying loose sprouts, use tongs or a plastic bag turned inside out to pick them up
- if buying packaged sprouts, choose crisp looking ones, preferably from the refrigerator
- if growing sprouts, be aware that even the most hygienic of conditions will not ensure the sprouts are bacteria free
- cook all sprouts thoroughly before eating.
For more on how to avoid food poisoning please see keeping food safe.
Sprouts can become contaminated as seeds as well as during growth and processing.
Potential sources of seed contamination in the field can include faecal matter from grazing animals as well as fertiliser used. Other contaminants can include things like bacteria in water and soil. The seeds can also be contaminated during harvest, sprout production, storage, cleaning, packaging and transportation.
Conditions for seed germination and sprout growth - warmth, humidity, nutrients – can create an ideal environment for food poisoning bacteria to grow.
Some sprout producers disinfect seeds to try to destroy some of the bacteria.
Food Authority requirements
The NSW Food Authority introduced strict safety requirements for all NSW sprout producers in 2005.
Sprout producers must:
- implement a food safety program
- undergo regular audits and inspections to assess compliance with the food safety program
- perform regular safety testing of water used to irrigate sprouts.