Food Safety Tips for Sprouts
Sprouts, such as alfalfa and mung beans, are a popular choice for Canadians as a low-calorie, healthy ingredient for many meals. Onion, radish, mustard and broccoli sprouts, which are not to be confused with the actual plant or vegetable, are also common options. However, sprouts can sometimes carry harmful bacteria, such as E. coli and Salmonella.
Sprouts and foodborne illness
Sprouts are the germinating form of seeds and beans. It is possible for sprouts and their seeds to come into contact with harmful bacteria:
- in the farm environment
- during packaging
- during storage
- during transportation
- during preparation through cross-contamination
If bacteria are present, on or in the seed, the sprouting conditions (warm and moist environment) may promote their growth.
Sprouts are often eaten raw. As such, they are not heated to high enough temperatures to kill harmful bacteria. These bacteria can cause a foodborne illness which includes symptoms like nausea, diarrhea, vomiting, fever and stomach cramps. Foodborne illness also can have more serious health consequences such as kidney failure, and even death.
If you think you may have a foodborne illness seek medical attention immediately.
Young children, older adults, pregnant women and people who have a weakened immune system should not eat uncooked or undercooked sprouts, because they are at greater risk for serious effects resulting from foodborne illness.
If you are a healthy person and you choose to eat sprouts, you can follow these tips to help avoid foodborne illness:
- Ensure that sprouts have been stored at refrigerated temperatures or are surrounded by ice. Temperature should be at or below 4°C (40°F).
- Select crisp-looking sprouts and avoid sprouts that look dark or smell musty.
- Use tongs, gloves or place a bag over your hand to place the sprouts into a plastic bag, if you are buying bean sprouts from a bulk display.
- Keep fresh produce, including sprouts, separate from raw meat, poultry and seafood to avoid cross-contamination.
Storing sprouts safely
- Refrigerate the sprouts immediately when you get home from the store. Your refrigerator temperature should be at or below 4°C (40°F). Use an appliance thermometer to check.
- Respect the best before date on prepackaged sprouts.
- Sprouts that are not prepackaged should be consumed within a few days.
- Throw away any sprouts that are past their best before date or have lost their crispness, look dark, or smell musty.
Preparing sprouts safely
- Wash your hands thoroughly with warm water and soap for at least 20 seconds, before and after handling sprouts.
- Rinse the sprouts in cool, running water before eating or cooking them.
- Make sure the sprouts have been thoroughly cooked before consumption.
- Thoroughly wash preparatory surface and utensils before and after handling or preparing sprouts.
At risk groups
Children, older adults, pregnant women and people with weakened immune systems:
- Should not eat any raw or undercooked sprouts.
- Ensure sprouts are thoroughly cooked before eating them.
- Read the labels at grocery stores for sprouts. If you are not sure if the food you are buying contains raw or undercooked sprouts, don't buy or eat it.
- Request that raw sprouts not be added to your meal or ensure that any sprouts in your dish are thoroughly cooked, when ordering food at a restaurant.
What the Government of Canada does to keep our food supply safe
The Government of Canada is committed to food safety.
Health Canada establishes regulations and standards relating to the safety and nutritional quality of foods sold in Canada. Through inspection and enforcement activities, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency verifies that food sold in Canada meets Health Canada's requirements.
For more information on food safety, please visit the Government of Canada's Food Safety Portal and the Canadian Partnership for Consumer Food Safety Education's Be Food Safe Canada program.