For a related story on the FDA's Sprout Safety Alliance and its lack of progress, please see, "Slow start for FDA's sprout alliance."
However, there is agreement among many academics and growers about basic food safety measures they say would virtually eliminate the chance of pathogen-laden sprouts entering the supply chain.
“It is too late if the seeds are not clean,” said Hao Feng, a University of Illinois researcher in food and bioprocess engineering.
Feng and fellow researchers published results of three sprout studies since May 2011. All three reports stated what studies have been showing since 1999: The Food and Drug Administration’s recommended use of a chlorine wash, on the books since 1999, doesn’t kill 100% of pathogens on sprout seeds.
Feng’s team reported a wash of malic acid and thiamine dilauryl sulfate killed significantly more pathogens than chlorine washes. However, the research also showed the larger the amount of seeds, the less effective sanitization washes are.
“We have to re-evaluate current washing procedures and facilities,” Feng said. “Some engineering studies are needed to look into the hydrodynamics, mixing, sanitizer degradation, among other (factors).”
The task force recently drafted a proposal on sprout safety. It suggests the FDA should approve seven or eight other sanitization methods.
Specific sprout safety measures could be included in the FDA’s overdue fresh produce rule, which is expected this year.
Meanwhile, there are simple steps sprout growers can take to ensure they are shipping clean produce, said Feng and Rust, who is chief executive officer of Cookeville, Tenn.-based International Specialty Supply, a major sprout seed supplier.
Seed screening, water testing
The screening starts with visual inspections when seeds arrive. If a bag is damaged or shows any signs of animal presence, it is automatically discarded.