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Reconsidering sprouts

June 13, 2011 - Kathie Evanoff
I love sprouts. I have grown them for years on my kitchen counter.I’ve grown them in canning jars and in special containers marketed for sprouting seeds.

My favorites are broccoli sprouts, but I’ve also grown alfalfa and mung bean sprouts and put them raw into salads and on sandwiches. I’ve tossed them in stir-fries, which in light of new evidence on the cultivation of seeds used for sprouting, this was probably the best way to use them.

My husband, the vegetable hater, won’t touch them. While I consistently attempt to get him to eat his vegetables, I have never pushed his aversion to sprouts because I always viewed them as more of a treat than as something essential.

Now I am rethinking growing and eating raw sprouts.

When advice was given years ago concerning the safety of raw spouts, I accepted this to define sprouts grown commercially. I never bought them already grown in the grocery store and I never ate sprouts that were more than three days old.

Sprouts, after all, grow in the same ideal situation as bacteria. They prefer moist, room temperature, low light conditions. What I didn’t know was that some seeds, before they are even packaged, are contaminated with bacteria. According to a factsheet published by the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI); “Even homegrown sprouts present a risk because if pathogenic bacteria are present in or on seed, they can grow to high levels during sprouting.”

This is scary stuff. The factsheet also explains that between 1990 and 2010, more than 2,500 Americans became sick after eating contaminated sprouts. Salmonella was the culprit in most of the outbreaks, but E. coli was found in a few and in one outbreak, Listeria was the culprit.

Prior to this information, it was recommended that young children, pregnant women, the elderly and those at risk due to illness should not eat sprouts. This is the same warning that was given for consuming raw eggs. Now the CSPI is recommending we leave sprouts alone altogether, even to the point of making sure our restaurant salads don’t contain sprouts either.

The U.S. Food and Drug Adminstration has not put a ban on sprouts, but includes these recommendations, as well as one more, to cook sprouts thoroughly before using. Cooking, they say, kills the bacteria.

I will probably continue to grow sprouts when I am planning a stir fry recipe, but then, maybe I won’t go to all that trouble just to add them to my vegetables.

I’ve grown and used sprouts in my kitchen for more than 30 years and have never come down with an illness that I can relate to them, but I also don’t take very many chances.

The CSPI also noted that the sprout industry was working to eliminate these problems. As soon as I get any additional information, I’ll be sure to pass it along. In the meantime, you can read the entire factsheet by going to


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