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General Food Safety

Are raw sprouts safe to eat?

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Raw sprouts present unique food safety problems because conditions under which they are produced - growing time, temperature, water activity, pH (a measure of acidity) and nutrients - are ideal for the rapid growth of bacteria. If pathogens are present on or in the seed, these conditions are likely to encourage proliferation. To counter this risk, the FDA guidance recommends seed disinfection (with solutions such as calcium hypochlorite) combined with microbial testing of used irrigation water from each batch or production lot to determine whether the pathogens Salmonella and E. coli O157:H7 are present. The FDA has two guidance documents to enhance the safety of sprouts, a product that in recent years has been implicated in at least 1,300 cases of foodborne illness. One guidances advises sprout producers and seed suppliers of steps they should take to reduce microbial hazards common to sprout production. A companion guide provides producers with the latest information about testing spent irrigation water, an important step to ensure the safety of sprouts. The two guidance documents are: "Guidance for Industry: Reducing Microbial Food Safety Hazards for Sprouted Seeds" and "Guidance for Industry: Sampling and Microbial Testing of Spent Irrigation Water During Sprout Production. These documents are located on the FDA Web site -- www.fda.gov.

PREPARED BY: Angela M. Fraser, Ph.D., Associate Professor/Food Safety Specialist, NC State University in July 2004

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