Sprouted seeds safety advice

Over the past 30 years, there has been a number of significant food poisoning outbreaks across the world linked to the consumption of contaminated sprouts.

In the UK, the most recent outbreak of this kind was in 2010, when the Health Protection Agency identified an increase in the number of human cases of salmonella food poisoning associated with the consumption of raw bean sprouts.

What are sprouts?

Seeds grown in water produce sprouts. These are collected before the leaves develop and the final product is eaten whole, including the seed. Examples include mung bean sprouts and radish sprouts.

What bacteria can be found on sprouts?

Salmonella and escherichia coli (E. coli) are the bacteria that most often cause food poisoning from sprouts. Other bacteria, such as bacillus, staphylococcus aureus and listeria have also occasionally been known to cause illness associated with sprouts.

What is the current advice on eating sprouts?

The Food Standards Agency says you can eat sprouts raw if they are labelled "ready to eat". All other sprouts should be cooked thoroughly until steaming hot throughout. In addition, you should follow the manufacturers’ storage instructions. If these are not available, keep them refrigerated at 5C or below.

You should not eat sprouts that are past their use by date and should avoid sprouts that have turned brown or changed colour.

Does washing sprouts make them safe to eat raw?

No. Ready-to-eat sprouts are safe to eat raw, as producers will have taken steps during production to kill harmful bacteria. Sprouts not labelled ready-to-eat should be cooked, as washing alone will not completely remove any bacteria.

What is the advice for vulnerable groups?

People over the age of 60, children aged under five and pregnant women are more at risk of suffering health complications if they contract food poisoning from contaminated foods, including raw or lightly cooked sprouts. The warm, moist conditions required to grow sprouts are ideal for the rapid growth of bacteria. Higher-risk groups are advised to cook all sprouts thoroughly until they are steaming hot throughout before eating them.

What does cooking thoroughly mean?

Cooking sprouts thoroughly means heating them until they are steaming hot throughout.

Can I sprout my own seeds at home?

Yes, but you need to use seeds suitable for home sprouting, which are subject to strict controls and testing. Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions. Equipment used for sprouting seeds should be cleaned thoroughly using hot soapy water before and after use. Always wash your hands before and after handling seeds intended for sprouting, as well as when preparing food generally.

Page last reviewed: 01/09/2014

Next review due: 01/09/2016


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