Delicious Sprouts- Maybe One of the Riskiest Foods in the World?
Let me start my post today with a story of a woman, who had a love for sandwiches- the more veggies in it, the better and the thicker the sandwich, the more delicious! After reading up on the amazing powers of sprouts, she ordered a sprout starter kit, which included a variety of seeds and beans as well as a special sprouting container. She started to sprout pretty much anything- it was easy, healthy and she felt like she provided herself and her family with special nutrients and energy. So far, so good.
One day, she runs out of sprouts or didn’t have time to sprout…either way, she spots crunchy alfalfa sprouts on the shelf of the supermarket. Having a mouth watering avocado/ salad/ hummus/ tomato sandwich in mind, she decides the only thing that would top off the sandwich are…sprouts. Slam dunk, they go in the cart.
At home, she devours her beloved sandwich. A few hours later she develops a bad headache and takes some pain killers. She starts to feel worse over the next few hours and barely makes it to school to pick up her children. By the time she gets home, she has a high fever and feels horrible. Later that night, the diarrhea sets in and …doesn’t stop! Anyway, to make a long story short, the woman is admitted to the hospital with severe abdominal cramps, high fever and diarrhea. She gets pretty much all antibiotics known to mankind, accumulates fluid in her abdomen, in her legs, arms and lungs because of the massive protein loss, is on the verge of kidney failure and probably only survives because of her young age and previous good health.
The cause? Contaminated sprouts.
The woman? The woman who is writing this post.
Now you might be asking: HOW CAN INNOCENT CRISPY AND DELICIOUS LITTLE SPROUTS BE POSSIBLY DANGEROUS OR EVEN LIFE THREATENING??
The cause of all this ….. the contamination of the seeds. The sources of contamination are myriad. Animals are a strong possibility (birds flying over the fields, field mice, racoons etc), water is another strong source- irrigation water, not rain water. The contamination can be amplified in water tanks or hoses where the bacteria can reproduce rapidly. Once the bugs are on the seed, they can survive in a dormant state for weeks. To start the sprouting process, the germs inside the seeds need a a perfect environment to grow, it has to be wet and warm. But these conditions not only wake up the seed, they wake up the pathogens. And now comes the big problem:
When microbes proliferate (some can double in 20 minutes at room temp), they can reach deadly levels within hours. And that’s why sprouts are uniquely dangerous. Sprouts are grown indoors in a warm room. The seeds are soaked in water for up to 12 hours. The water is not always purified. The seeds can absorb up to three times its weight in water in this first phases. The seeds and water are stirred often to make sure they are all soaking properly, so if there are unwanted bacteria in the soup, they are spread among the whole mass. Warm water speeds the germination of the seed. The problem is, warm water also awakens the dormant bacteria. And the sprouting is often done under low light, away from the inhibiting effects of the UV light in sunlight.
People in the sprouting industry have tried chlorinated water and other purifying systems with only limited success. A solution may yet to be found, and so far they have tried just about everything.
Since 1996, there have been at least 30 reported outbreaks of foodborne illness associated with different types of raw and lightly cooked sprouts in the US alone. Most of these outbreaks were caused by Salmonella and E. coli. Tangy tasty radish sprouts caused one of the world’s largest food-borne illness outbreaks in Japan in 1996, sickening about 10,000 people (that we know of), many of them children.
The survivors had more than tummy aches. Many of their kidneys shut down, many were hospitalized, many were near death, and there almost certainly were thousands more who never reported their illness and just gutted it out at home.
And it doesn’t stop- this is one of the latest headlines regarding a sprout related food- borne illness:
Public Health Notice – Outbreak of Salmonella infections related to sprouted chia seed powder
Since our last update, four additional cases have been reported in British Columbia (1), Ontario (2) and Quebec (1) as part of this investigation. These are not recent cases; the individuals became ill in June 2014.
Well, for my part, I no longer play Russian roulette!