Bean Sprouts and Safety | What’s the deal?


I love bean sprouts. I like them on sandwiches, salads and well, just in general. So every time I hear a news story about them causing some widespread illness I think, “What the heck?”

According to The New York Times, Germany is now reporting that the outbreak which killed at least 30 people was due to E. coli on contaminated bean sprouts.

Escherichia coli–commonly referred to as E. coli (pronounced eee cole eye)–is a bacteria that normally appears in your digestive system. However, when it appears in food like in the Germany outbreak, it may mean that the food or water became contaminated through animal or human feces. (Uh huh. Eat up, everyone.)

Germany is still trying to determine exactly how the bean sprouts causing concern were contaminated from what appears to be one source–an organic farm.

This isn’t the first time we’ve heard of illness associated with them. The Health Canada website discusses several large illness outbreaks due to sprouts, including an outbreak in Japan where “6,000 people got sick and 17 died after eating radish sprouts contaminated with E. coli.”

So, what’s the deal with sprouts in general–bean and other kinds?

According to the website The World’s Healthiest Foods, “growing conditions for sprouts can also be ideal growing conditions for bacteria.” This means that sprouts can “carry” bacteria that can, indeed, make you sick if not treated properly.

The website gives these tips for safe consumption:

  • Look for the International Sprout Growers Association seal on the package to indicate the grower has met stringent safety standards.
  • Keep sprouts refrigerated.
  • Do not consume if sprout stems are dark instead of white and the sprouts have an odor.
  • Discard or compost two days after the “sell by” date on the package.

Image Credit: nuchylee

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