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Shortly after the deadly foodborne illness outbreak in Europe, I attended a catered lunch at a conference. As I bit into my sandwich, I detected the distinct crunch and flavor of sprouts. Was this sandwich safe?

News was abuzz about the European outbreak—and rightfully so. Researchers attributed the cause of death for more than forty people to Escherichia coli (E.coli) in bean sprouts. The bacteria infected at least four U.S. travelers to Germany and caused the death of an elderly Arizona man.

E. coli and Salmonella outbreaks occur more often throughout the world than you may think. Many cases go undiagnosed because symptoms mimic other health problems. Typical signs include fever, diarrhea, and abdominal cramps. Symptoms may occur twelve to seventy-two hours after ingestion of the tainted food and last from four to seven days. If the bacteria spread from the intestines to the bloodstream and other body sites, death can result unless promptly and appropriately treated. Those most susceptible are seniors, young children, and individuals with compromised immune systems.

Why are sprouts the culprit? Sprouts grow in a warm, humid environment, the same ideal conditions needed for bacterial growth. Unlike other raw fruits and vegetables, washing sprouts before eating may not help. Bacteria can cling to the surface of sprout seeds and grow inside the sprouts as well as outside.

Should you eat sprouts? Although the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) established guidelines for suppliers of sprouts, safety is not guaranteed, and they remain potentially hazardous. In 2009 and earlier years, the FDA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommended consumers avoid raw sprouts. Consuming organically grown sprouts is even more risky. Researchers linked the contaminated sprouts in Europe to an organic farm in Germany. To elude this foodborne illness stay away from uncooked sprouts. Better yet, choose other healthy foods with less contamination risk.

 Reference: CDC Median Relations:
Sprouts: Not a Healthy Food for Everyone. http://www.cdc.gov/media/pressrel/r990809.htm

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