Home grown sprouts v the ones in organic veg boxes
After all the hoohaa of the last few weeks dies down some of us are left wondering if our home grown sprouts are really safe to eat. It always seemed slightly dodgy to me to grow something in conditions that so closely mimic a petri dish and not risk growing other less friendly things in there too.
Update from the UK Food Standards Agency:
Since I wrote this post there has been an update from the FSA (July 1st 2011)
Sprouted seeds should only be eaten if they have been cooked thoroughly until steaming hot throughout; they should not be eaten raw.
It goes on to say:
The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) have potentially linked the outbreaks in France and Germany to fenugreek seeds.
and goes on to say:
The Food Standards Agency is continuing to work with the Health Protection Agency to investigate possible links between a UK company and the outbreak in France. Samples of the implicated seeds (fenugreek, rocket, and mustard) from the company are being tested for E. coli O104:H4. Once the full set of test results are returned, the Agency will make these available.
They also say:
The EFSA and ECDC summary concludes that ‘because fenugreek seeds are often sold as mixes of seeds and that during re-packaging cross-contamination cannot be excluded pending outcome of the epidemiological investigation under way, consumers should be advised to ensure that all types of sprouts are thoroughly cooked before consumption’. (my emphasis)
Sprouts are not just tasty they are really good for you. There is lots of evidence that eating sprouts has health benefits so cooking them or even not eating them are not options I want to consider. But it is possible I might have to cook them from now on.
One of the things I’ve discovered is that commercial sprout growers sterilise their seeds first before they start and then keep them in totally sterile environments. I’ve got to confess I’ve never done that. Worse still I’ve sprouted all sorts of things (like dried lentils) that were never intended to be sprouted. I tended to think that the packets of sprouting seeds were a bit of a con. Now I know they are more expensive because they are treated to avoid contamination. Ooops!
It seems that problems can arise when:
- They are handled by anyone with uncertain hygiene
- The water they are rinsed in is anything less than drinking quality
- Un-germinated seeds or seed cases are not removed and start to decay
- Sprouts are allowed to form clumps making it harder to remove debris
- The environment they are grown in is open to insect or bird contamination.
Growing sprouts at home
Now, I don’t know about you, but, clean as our kitchen is, it certainly is not a ‘sterile environment’. I am careful about washing my hands before handling food.
I always try to rinse sprouts 3 or 4 times a day but I have to admit to occasionally forgetting. Also I’m not sure I always get them as dry as they should really be after rinsing. It can be hard too to spread them out properly after they’ve started to sprout.
What with that and my slap dash attitude to what I was sprouting I’m starting to think we’ve been quite lucky!
Commercially grown sprouts
On the Riverford web site they say:
Brett Kellett who grows our beansprouts grows in very small batches which are constantly turned and flushed with water.
Beansprouts are the only crop that Brett grows and the whole process takes place indoors. It is more of a hygienic factory type environment than that of a farm. The young sprouts obtain all the energy they need for growth from the seed, naturally reserved there by its mother plant. Hence, no fertiliser or manure is needed or used.
Brett sterilises all of his seed, before germination. To ensure his hygiene standards are effective, he tests every batch of his product for the presence of bacteria, guaranteeing they are perfectly safe and healthy to eat. There are reports that two of the staff at the German farm had previously suffered E. coli and it is possible that these staff infected the crop. Brett has only a couple of employees, who are fully aware of UK legislation that food handlers must inform their manager and not report to work if they have food poisoning symptoms (not that any of them ever have had).
This sounds wonderfully reassuring. An open and transparent response to people’s worries. Having read this I’m happy. We’ll keep adding a box or two of sprouts to our organic veg boxes and the sprouting pots will have to find a new use.
Note – our latest box came with a sticker passing on the FSA advice to cook them thoroughly before eating.
So – Are sprouts safe?
The answer to the original question seems to be “Yes, sprouts are safe but be sure you trust your supplier” Er, No, see updated answer below
A more up to date answer:
“Yes sprouts are safe if you cook them until steaming.”