Food Safety Sprouting Up

You may have heard of the recent Salmonella food safety incident brought on by the consumption of clover sprouts on sandwiches. People in several states have contracted foodborne illness and have reported being very sick. Specifically in this case, the strain of Salmonella making all of these folks sick is called Salmonella Montevideo.

Let’s take a quick look at some info on this bacteria, safe food-handling tips and what you should do if you think you may have foodborne illness.

Skipping the Side of Sprouts?

Farmers take great care to provide safe and nutritious fruits and vegetables to us all. In addition, to help further support sprout farmers in their efforts to produce these veggies in the safest way possible, the Food and Drug Administration’s Sprout Safety Alliance has developed best practices for growing sprouts and supplying them to stores, markets and restaurants.

Still, sprouts have been associated with several foodborne illness outbreaks and have gained a bit of a “reputation” for being notable culprits in causing foodborne illness. For example, the FDA recorded that between 1996 and July 2016 in the United States, there were a total of approximately “46 reported outbreaks associated with sprouts, accounting for 2,474 illnesses and 187 hospitalizations.”

These outbreaks are mainly tied to the nature of how sprouts are grown, which is in a warm, moist and nutrient-rich atmosphere. The sprout crop environment happens to be the same atmosphere Salmonella  (and other bacteria such as E. coli) thrives in. These conditions can lead to the sprout seed's being contaminated and carrying the bacteria. In most cases of sprout-caused foodborne illness, the contamination can be traced back to the sprout seeds.

Sly Salmonella

While we have one of the safest and most reliable food supplies in the world, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that Salmonella (from various sources) annually causes 1.2 million foodborne illnesses, 19,000 hospitalizations and 450 deaths in the United States.

Salmonella can contaminate many different foods as we’ve noted in the past—vegetables, raw milk, raw chicken and the outside of eggs. Specifically for sprouts, food safety experts suggest that children, the elderly and pregnant women should not eat raw sprouts of any kind. Also, for all of us, it is best to cook sprouts thoroughly before eating them. If you’re dining out, ask that raw sprouts not be added to your sandwich or dish, or ask for the sprouts to be well-cooked before they are served to you.

Side-Stepping Salmonella

To actively avoid Salmonella that could be lurking about, we suggest you read our safe food-handling steps. If you need a quick refresher, here you go! Don’t worry that you may forget one; there are only four key steps — Clean, Separate, Cook and Chill.

When cooking you should be sure to wash your hands, fruits and veggies, preparation utensils and surfaces. Also keep your fruits and veggies separated from raw meat, seafood and poultry when storing and preparing your meals.

Cooking may come easier to some of us than others, but for all of us it is important to cook food carefully and thoroughly. Using a food thermometer can help you know if your food has reached the right temperature. As mentioned above, FDA recommends that if you want to consume sprouts, they should be well-cooked, not just blanched or warmed.  And last but not least, you should always be sure to refrigerate or freeze perishables, ready-to-eat foods and leftovers promptly (within about two hours after purchase or preparation).

Even if you use these steps to stay safe, we suggest visiting a healthcare professional immediately if you suspect you have foodborne illness. Common symptoms include nausea, stomach pains and diarrhea.

Final Thoughts

While we have a highly regulated food supply, we as consumers still have to be vigilant in cooking and eating foods in a safe and responsible manner. Now that you have the skinny on sprouts, be sure to skip the raw ones, cook them thoroughly or just opt for another green veggie instead.