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August 9, 1999
Contact: Peter Taormina
University of Georgia (fax) 770.229.3216

Sprouts: Not A Healthy Food for Everyone

Children, the elderly, and persons with weakened immune systems should not eat raw sprouts, according to an article in the current issue of Emerging Infectious Diseases, CDC's peer-reviewed journal.

Although sprouts are often considered a "health food," the warm, humid conditions needed for growing sprouts from seeds are also ideal for bacteria to flourish. Salmonella, E. coli, and other bacteria can grow to high levels without affecting the appearance of the sprouts.

The authors reviewed reports from the United States and several other countries of outbreaks caused by eating contaminated sprouts grown from various kinds of seeds (for example, alfalfa, mung bean, and clover). The world's largest reported outbreak of E. coli O157:H7, which occurred in Japan in 1996, was linked to eating white radish (daikon) sprouts. Approximately 10,000 people became ill in that outbreak.

Researchers have treated both seeds and sprouts with heat or washed them in solutions of chlorine, alcohol, and other chemicals. Some of these disinfectants reduced the levels of bacteria, but a potential hazard remained, especially for persons with weak immune systems. High temperatures that would kill the bacteria on the seeds would also keep them from sprouting.

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