Like any fresh produce that is consumed raw or lightly cooked, sprouts that are served on salads, wraps, sandwiches, and in some Asian food may contain bacteria that can cause foodborne illness. But unlike other fresh produce, sprouts are grown from seeds and beans under warm and humid conditions. These conditions are also ideal for the growth of bacteria, including Salmonella, Listeria, and E. coli. If just a few harmful bacteria are present in or on the seed, the bacteria can grow to high levels during sprouting, even if you are growing your own sprouts under sanitary conditions at home.
Children, older adults, pregnant women, and people with weakened immune systems (such as transplant patients and individuals with HIV/AIDS, cancer, and diabetes) should avoid eating raw or lightly cooked sprouts of any kind (including onion, alfalfa, clover, radish, and mung bean sprouts). When eating out, you can ask that raw sprouts not be added to your food. If you purchase a sandwich or salad at a restaurant or delicatessen, check to make sure that raw sprouts have not been added.
What can consumers do to reduce the risk of illness if they want to eat sprouts?
- Wash sprouts thoroughly under running water before eating or cooking. Washing may reduce bacteria that may be present, but it will not eliminate it.
- Cook sprouts thoroughly. Cooking kills harmful bacteria and reduces the risk of illness.