Hello, I am Dr. Raj Mody. I am an internal medicine and pediatric clinician and infectious disease epidemiologist at the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). I am glad to have the opportunity to talk with you about sprouts, and the risks they pose to health, as part of the CDC Expert Video Commentary Series on Medscape. So-called sproutbreaks have occurred every year in the United States since at least 1995 and have taught us that sprouts are a risky food to eat. Sprouts were found to be the cause of a devastating outbreak of Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli infections in Europe this summer. Ultimately, this outbreak caused more than 4000 illnesses, more than 900 cases of hemolytic uremic syndrome, and 50 deaths.
Why are sprouts a risky food, you might ask? Some people think of them as the ultimate healthy food -- fresh and natural. In fact, raw sprouts can be anything but safe. Lessons from outbreaks have taught us that it is a good idea for people who want to lower their risk for foodborne infection to cook raw sprouts or avoid eating them raw.
Here is what we have learned:
Lesson 1: A sprouted seed is a perfect vehicle for pathogens.
A sprouting seed is as inviting and nourishing as Salmonella or E coli could want, and the warm, moist conditions in which sprouts are produced only make matters worse. A single Salmonella organism on the outside of a seed can easily grow to an infectious dose after it has sprouted. The bacteria in or on growing sprouts cannot be washed off. Because Shiga toxin-producing E coli (STEC) have a low infectious dose, sprouts are a great vehicle. Sprouts have also been the vehicle for Listeria, which causes a very dangerous infection for pregnant women and the elderly.
Lesson 2: Sprouts have caused many outbreaks of illness.
Since sprouts were first recognized as a source of foodborne disease in the mid-1990s, they have become one of the "usual suspects" that foodborne disease epidemiologists look for when investigating an E coli or Salmonella outbreak. Since 1998, more than 30 outbreaks have been reported to the CDC, due to many different kinds of sprouts -- alfalfa, bean, clover, and others. In fact, CDC's foodborne disease surveillance systems have identified 3 sprouts-associated outbreaks since June of 2010 that spread across multiple states.
Lesson 3: It is difficult to grow "safe" sprouts.
Once the potential dangers of sprouts became known, the US Food and Drug Administration developed guidance to help sprout growers reduce the risk for pathogen contamination in sprouts they produce and sell. Many sprouts growers have implemented practices to decontaminate seeds before sprouting, but no available method has proved completely effective. People who eat raw sprouts ought to know that they are taking a risk, including people who grow their own sprouts, because the contamination typically starts with the seed.
Lesson 4: Sprouts can make even young and healthy people ill.
This is one of the biggest lessons learned from the outbreak in Europe in 2011 and from our experience with outbreaks in this country. Sproutbreaks in the United States predominantly affect healthy persons aged 20-49 years. A typical victim may be an especially health conscious person in the prime of life. Nevertheless, illnesses from sprouts can be particularly severe in vulnerable populations, such as young children, older adults, pregnant women, and people with compromised immunity.
Lesson 5: It can be hard for those who become ill to remember having eaten sprouts.
We have found in our investigation of outbreaks that were ultimately linked to sprouts that people often do not remember having eaten them, because they are often just a garnish or just one of many ingredients in a food dish. It is not necessary to eat large quantities of sprouts to make a person sick. An ill person's inability to accurately recall what they ate sometimes makes it difficult to pinpoint an outbreak of sprouts.
So what can you do?
Clinicians are a trusted source of information. You can relay the message about the dangers of consuming raw or uncooked sprouts, especially to people in the most vulnerable populations -- young children, older adults, pregnant women, and people with compromised immunity. CDC recommends that people in these groups not eat sprouts;
If you diagnose a Salmonella, STEC, or Listeria infection, you should report it to your local health department; and
If you have a patient with Salmonella or E coli diarrhea or Listeria meningitis, take a food history -- consuming even small amounts of raw or uncooked sprouts could be the source of illness.
I hope you have found this short talk on sproutbreaks informative. For more information, visit the Web resources listed on this page. Thank you for watching.
I remember reading something along this line years ago when sprouts were a popular thing here (with many locals growing their own)...the other food that kind of weirds me out that people do...is making their own yogurt...I remember reading about this and cheese and the importance of the bacteria being certain levels etc.... and how dangerous it could be...needless to say.. I pass on home grown yogurt and cheese as well.
I dont eat them, never have thank god. I tell you another thing I wont eat and that is anything from a so called salad bar. EW! Or a buffet! In fact I got food poisoning from mushrooms at a pizza house that served personal pans for lunch one time. For the next 6 hours, both ends were working and I couldnt get up off the bathroom floor. (pizza hut). Come to find out the mushrooms were left out by the ovens instead of being on ice the way they should be. I nearly died. Now if I get something even half bad, I get violent reactions. It is not safe to eat out without carrying charcoal capsules anymore.
Ohhhhhhh my goodness teko...I am a visualizer..(sadly) and you had me laughing so hard!!!! Thats terrible....who would think a personal pan pizza! I am with you...always avoid the salad bar! After what my friends told me about the food places they worked...have you ever seen hells kitchen... I will gladly eat at home.
I saw this...
A while back I contacted a company that grows melons. I actually asked them what their practice was in regards to...
The workers in the fields be allowed to just use the field as a bathroom. (this was one question) because I had read about these large produce companies having an issue with people squatting in fields. Well.....they wrote back... guess what they said..Something to the effect of
(Thank you for contacting us in regard to our product. We grow the best tasting canteloupe you will find in the US, hands down. We are confident that our product speaks for itssefl).
Doesn't surprise me. I've been on what is considered a small melon farm and I have to tell you.... if you were standing in the middle of the field and had the urge to go, you'd never make it to the truck on time to drive to the nearest bathroom....
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