A ‘difficult time’ for sprout industry

02/23/2012 03:03:00 PM
Mike Hornick

“I am not sure it will include seed production,” said Suslow, whose research experience includes some sprout projects. “Based on an outline, they were starting at the seed distributor, which is not adequate to protect the public. I hope they’ll put this back in….It appears to be very difficult to keep seed that has some low level of contamination from being introduced into the sprout production stream.”

William Keene, senior epidemiologist at Oregon Public Health Services, said sprouts’ problems trace to how they’re produced.

“It’s a generic problem, not a this-guy-was-doing-something-wrong problem,” Keene said. “The conditions for generating sprouts commercially are almost like designing a process to grow bacteria. It’s wet, it’s not too cold. The sprouts grow luxuriantly and so do the bacteria.”

While the sprout industry has done a lot to reduce the risk to consumers, Keene said it is hard to give a one-word answer to the question of whether sprouts are viable and safe.

“It’s a personal decision,” he said. “How likely is it that you’ll get sick? One in a million? Maybe you’ve eaten sprouts for 20 years and never gotten sick. For some an illness is potentially life threatening, but most of the time it’s not that bad. It’s like crossing the street — you’re taking your life in your hand, but most of the time you don’t think about it.”


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Jeff Barach    
Northern Virginia  |  February, 24, 2012 at 07:12 AM

One solution is ionization (irradiation). It has been researched by USDA labs and shown to be effective in killing pathogens without reducing quality. In fact shelf-life is extended. FDA's Office of Food Additive Safety (OFAS) has a petition in front of them to allow this use for sprouts. Ask Dennis Keefe at FDA (240-402-1200) when this petition will be approved.

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