Health Canada

Health Canada

August 12, 2011 10:33 ET

Risks of Eating Raw Sprouts

OTTAWA, ONTARIO--(Marketwire - Aug. 12, 2011) - Health Canada is reminding Canadians that raw or undercooked sprouts shouldn't be eaten by children, older adults, pregnant women or those with weakened immune systems.

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.

These foods, however, may carry harmful bacteria such as Salmonella and E. coli, which can lead to serious illness.

Fresh produce can sometimes be contaminated with harmful bacteria while in the field or during storage or handling. This is particularly a concern with sprouts. Many outbreaks of Salmonella and E. coli infections have been linked to contaminated sprouts. In Canada, between 1995 and 2011, about 1,000 cases of sprout-borne illness were reported in eight outbreaks from five provinces. The largest outbreak in Canada was in the fall of 2005, when more than 648 cases of Salmonella were reported in Ontario.

Children, older adults, pregnant women and those with weakened immune systems are particularly vulnerable to these bacteria and shouldn't eat any raw sprouts at all. They should also avoid eating cooked sprouts unless they can be sure the sprouts have been thoroughly cooked.

Healthy adults who choose to eat sprouts should take precautions to reduce their risk of exposure to sprout-borne bacteria. When purchasing sprouts, always select crisp ones that have been refrigerated at or below 4 °C (40°F) and avoid those that appear dark or smell musty. Always use tongs, a glove or place a bag over your hand to place the sprouts into a plastic bag. If possible, when eating in a restaurant, always make sure that the sprouts are thoroughly cooked.

Symptoms from Salmonella usually occur 6 to 72 hours after eating contaminated food while symptoms from E. coli can occur within one to 10 days. Symptoms can include nausea, diarrhea, vomiting, fever and stomach cramps. People who experience these symptoms should contact a doctor immediately. In extreme cases, E. coli can lead to acute kidney failure or even death.

Health Canada and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency continue to work with producers to develop and implement best practices that will reduce the chances of sprouts becoming contaminated. Health Canada's Policy on Managing Health Risks Associated with the Consumption of Sprouted Seeds and Beans was released with this in mind.

More information, including Health Canada's policy on sprouts, can be found on Health Canada's Sprouts Information Page (http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/fn-an/securit/ill-intox/info/sprouts-pousses-eng.php).

For more information on sprouts and food safety, please visit:

Government of Canada's Tip Sheet on Sprouts (http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/fn-an/securit/kitchen-cuisine/sprouts-germes-eng.php)

Health Canada's It's Your Health article on Risks Associated with Sprouts (http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/hl-vs/iyh-vsv/food-aliment/sprouts-germes-eng.php)

Health Canada's information on Safe Handling of Fruits and Vegetables (http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/fn-an/securit/kitchen-cuisine/safety-salubrite/index-eng.php)

Government of Canada's Food Safety Portal (www.foodsafety.gc.ca)

Partnership for Consumer Food Safety Education's Be Food Safe Canada Campaign (www.befoodsafe.ca)

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