Raw Sprouts: Good or Bad?

The FDA categorizes sprouts as a potentially hazardous food, which means they can carry illness-causing food bugs. Does this mean you should steer clear of them?

The FDA categorizes sprouts as a potentially hazardous food, which means they can carry illness-causing food bugs. Does this mean you should steer clear of them? Not necessarily.

Good?

Raw sprouts like alfalfa, clover, radish, onion and mung bean add color, texture and flavor to dishes. They can be enjoyed cold in sandwiches and salads or warm in stir-fries.

Sprouts are also a nutrient-dense food. One cup of alfalfa sprouts has a mere 8 calories and is a good source of vitamin K. It also provides a slew of other nutrients like vitamin C, fiber, folate, copper and manganese.

Bad?

Over the past 16 years, there have been at least 30 reported illness outbreaks associated with raw or lightly cooked sprouts. Most of the outbreaks were caused by E. Coli or salmonella. In these outbreaks, the seed was typically the source of the bacteria. Although there are various approved treatments to destroy harmful bacteria on seeds and testing is done during sprouting, there’s no guarantee that all the bacteria will be destroyed.

Think homegrown is safer? Not necessarily. Even if the sprouts are grown under sanitary conditions in your own home, the source of the bacteria is in the seed itself. The bacteria will happily multiply while the seed is sprouting.

Folks with weaker immune systems like older adults, infants, young children, pregnant and breastfeeding women should avoid raw sprouts.

Bottom Line: If you have a strong, healthy immune system, eating raw sprouts shouldn’t be a problem.  If you’re worried or have a compromised immune system, be sure to eat thoroughly-cooked sprouts and avoid raw or slightly-cooked ones. When dining out, hold the sprouts and be wary pre-made salads and sandwiches which contain them .

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