“Don’t eat raw sprouts. Thats the best advice for all of us”

Those are Suzanne Havala Hobbs’ words in today’s Raleigh News and Observer. Suzanne is the director of the Doctoral Program in Health Leadership at UNC Chapel Hill.

I agree with her.

The Germany-centered E. coli O104:H4 outbreak will probably be touted as the tipping point for avoiding sprouts in Europe. Based on the illnesses and bodies that have been left behind from sprouts in the past, tipping point is an empty statement. 

Hobbs writes in her op-ed:

The problem with sprouts is that since the 1970s they have been linked to dozens of outbreaks (see our list here) of food-borne illness around the world. E. coli and salmonella contamination are the two most common causes.

Don’t eat raw sprouts. That’s the best advice for all of us. It’s especially true for the most vulnerable: young children, older adults and anyone with a weakened immune system.

Anticipate that raw sprouts may be served on burgers, sandwiches and in salads at restaurants. If they’re listed on the menu, ask that they be left off your food. If they show up on your plate anyway, remove them before eating your food.

In 2001, three people who became ill from a sprouts outbreak in four western states reported to investigators that they ate the food as it was promoted as a health food. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a renewed a call for Americans to avoid fresh alfalfa or other sprouts, and that people, particularly young children, the elderly and those with weak immune systems, should avoid eating raw sprouts. California Department of Health Services and the California Department of Education took notice and recommend that schools stop serving uncooked sprouts to young children. That was outbreak number 30.

Another eight  sprouts-linked outbreaks occurred and then 2005, when I was a graduate student at Guelph (that’s in Canada) over 640 individuals in Ontario (also in Canada) became ill with Salmonella Enteriditis linked to sprouts consumption. Investigators found birds and bird droppings in the seed storage area of the supplier and pointed to either seed source or environmental contamination as the likely source.

An additional four sprouts related outbreaks occurred between 2005 and a food safety conference I attended in Colorado in 2007. 

Sprouts were served on the salad in the lunch buffet.

Thirteen additional outbreaks have happened since then. We have to be at the tipping point now, right?

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About Ben Chapman

Dr. Ben Chapman is a professor and food safety extension specialist at North Carolina State University. As a teenager, a Saturday afternoon viewing of the classic cable movie, Outbreak, sparked his interest in pathogens and public health. With the goal of less foodborne illness, his group designs, implements, and evaluates food safety strategies, messages, and media from farm-to-fork. Through reality-based research, Chapman investigates behaviors and creates interventions aimed at amateur and professional food handlers, managers, and organizational decision-makers; the gate keepers of safe food. Ben co-hosts a biweekly podcast called Food Safety Talk and tries to further engage folks online through Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and, maybe not surprisingly, Pinterest. Follow on Twitter @benjaminchapman.