Sprouts are easily contaminated, but FDA finds most are safe
- In response to 46 reported outbreaks of foodborne illness in the United States linked to sprouts between 1996 to 2016, the Food and Drug Administration conducted a large-scale sampling of sprouts to learn more about potential contamination, according to Pro Food World.
- The agency collected 825 samples from 37 states, Puerto Rico and Washington, D.C. and found that most of the positive samples came from a small number of sprouting operations. Fourteen positive samples were found from the 94 growers, with 10 coming from just four growers.
- Sprout samples were tested for salmonella, listeria and E. coli. Seeds, fully grown sprouts and spent irrigation water were all tested.
This study has encouraging news for sprout safety. If researchers had discovered trace amounts of salmonella, listeria or E. coli from a majority of producers, it could have implied that sprouts are simply difficult to produce without any contamination. These results show this is a problem that can be managed.
This recent study could put consumers' minds at ease, ensuring that most sprouts are perfectly safe to eat. Safety is understandable concern, considering there have been 46 reported outbreaks of foodborne illness linked to spouts in a 20-year period ending in 2016. Sprouts are also often consumed raw, so there is limited potential to kill off harmful bacteria in the cooking process. Still, this study should demonstrate that the majority of U.S. sprouts producers are selling safe produce.
There are a few simple steps sprouts producers can take to lessen the risk that they’ll have a contaminated harvest. First, growers can ensure that the irrigation water they’re using is free from pathogens. Second, farm and processing equipment should be routinely tested to ensure it, too, is pathogen-free. And third, producers could check that farm workers have easy access to proper hand washing stations that are always stocked with soap and hot water. Many of these steps should be covered by procedures mandated through the Food Safety Modernization Act's new produce safety rule, which will be enforced starting in December.
There are also more traceability-related steps that can be used to improve sprouts safety, as well as the crunchy crop's image. Consumers increasingly want to know where their food came from, and recent research has predicted that the food traceability market will be worth $14 billion by 2019. Sprouts producers would be smart to jump on the traceability bandwagon, providing more information about the sources and procedures used to produce their food. These steps would improve sprouts' public image, and help manufacturers quickly locate the source of any contamination.