Still eating raw sprouts? For health’s sake, it’s time to stop


There has been yet another recall of sprouts – this time bean sprouts – due to possible contamination by salmonella. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) recently issued a recall for Fresh Sprout International brand Fresh Bean Sprouts and warns consumers not to consume the recalled product due to possible Salmonella contamination.

But the issue of potential contamination of various sprouts has been ongoing for decades. While alfalfa, broccoli, mung bean, mustard, onion and radish sprouts may all be tasty additions to offerings such as sandwiches and salads, they are simply not worth the risk.

Over the years, they have been implicated as the source of foodborne illnesses such as E. coli and salmonella. While I don’t have any recent figures, according to Health Canada, between the period of 1995 and 2011, more than eight outbreaks in five provinces in Canada resulted in more than 1000 cases of foodborne illness due to sprouts.

Health Canada suggests that an order to reduce your risk from eating sprouts, that children, older adults, pregnant women and people with weakened immune systems avoid them. Their information page gives advice on how to handle and prepare them if you’re not part of the at-risk group.

But the question is: why take a chance when the stats show that they could make you ill.

If you ask many experts, what’s the one food they will never eat the answer is commonly raw sprouts. Well they may offer a tasty crunch or be an attractive garnish for various dishes, they’re simply not worth the risk. While I used to grow my own alfalfa sprouts many years ago, I stopped eating them well over a decade ago. Growing sprouts at home does not offer any more protection against foodborne illness than buying commercial products.

That’s because the very process of growing sprouts is problematic. The seeds can be contaminated right along the entire process. Firstly they can come into contact with microbes that cause foodborne illness in the field through animal manure, irrigation water or through handling in the field. They can also continue to be contaminated through their transport – as can many seeds. But it’s how they are grown that separates them from other produce.

They’re grown in dark moist warm temperatures which are ideal conditions for these various microbes to flourish. While other plants are germinated in the same manner, once the plants start growing, they are no longer subjected to the same conditions and as a result, any microbes tend to die off.

That is why you should not confuse sprouts with microgreens. These greens are also packed with nutrition- even more so than sprouts – and are a terrific alternative to raw sprouts.

Foodborne illness can be very serious indeed and when you can decrease the chance of becoming a victim, it simply makes sense to do so.

The good news is that scientists are currently looking at methods to decontaminate the various seeds but in the meantime, my suggestion is to avoid eating raw sprouts. There are plenty of other ways to add crunch to your meals without taking a risk to your health.


Tags: , , , , , ,

Categories: Food Safety, Whole Foods

Author:Rosie Schwartz

Rosie Schwartz is a Toronto-based consulting dietitian and writer.

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2 Comments on “Still eating raw sprouts? For health’s sake, it’s time to stop”

  1. Arnold
    February 28, 2020 at 7:32 am #

    What about sprouted bread? Any issues?

    • February 28, 2020 at 1:27 pm #

      No, there are no concerns about sprouted grain breads, Arnold. They’re sprouted under controlled conditions as are commercially sprouted grains. Home sprouted grains, though, eaten raw could potentially be problematic.

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