The Wall Street Journal reports that the FDA says developing stricter safety standards for sprouts — which include mung, alfalfa, clover, broccoli and radish seedlings — is a top priority to reduce diseases rising from E. coli and salmonella contamination.
Despite being high in fiber and free of fat, fresh sprouts were flagged in the government’s two latest dietary guidelines as a health risk tantamount to undercooked beef or eggs. Food researchers say a contaminated sprout can contain millions of bacteria. A tainted chicken carcass, in contrast, usually contains around 100.
Since 1996, raw or slightly cooked sprouts have caused around 1,636 cases of illness, or 40% of all food-borne illness linked to produce. In 1999, after the number of illnesses linked to sprouts spiked, the FDA urged producers to chlorinate seeds before they sprout.
However, chlorination has proved irritating to the skins and respiratory tracts of sprout producers, according to Bob Sanderson, head of the International Sprout Growers Association. He hopes that the FDA will define a standard, but leave it up to the sprouting industry to use its own methods to meet that standard.