Introduction

Sprouts are considered a natural healthy food by many consumers in the U.S. and elsewhere. The North American sprouting industry has grown rapidly from only a very few commercial growers in 1970 to approximately 300 growers today with a total product market value of approximately $250,000,000 [1]. Over 20 seed types are used for sprouting in commercial operations and in the home [2]. Commercial sprouting operations are indoor facilities and in the U.S. are usually small in size with less than 10 employees [3]. Distribution of sprouts to retail outlets is local or regional.

Sprouts can be classified as either green sprouts or bean sprouts. Green sprouts such as alfalfa, clover, broccoli, radish, and sunflower have been subjected to light at some point in the growing process to allow for chlorophyll development. Bean (mung bean and soybean) sprouts are propagated under continuous dark and thus do not produce chlorophyll. Mung bean sprouts make up the major portion of the market for sprouts in the U.S. Green sprouts

Mention of trade names or commercial products in this chapter is solely for the purpose of providing specific information and does not imply recommendation or endorsement by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

are consumed raw while bean sprouts are most often, but not always, served after at least light cooking.

Unfortunately, since 1995, both in the U.S. and in other countries, there have been numerous outbreaks of foodborne illness due to the consumption of sprouts contaminated with the bacterial pathogens salmonella and Escherichia coli O157 [4,5]. Raw sprouts were identified as a special food safety problem due to the potential for bacterial human pathogens to multiply from low levels on contaminated seed to high levels on sprouts due to favorable conditions of moisture, temperature, and nutrient availability during the sprouting process [4]. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has released a number of consumer advisories informing the consuming public about the risks associated with eating raw sprouts, the latest occurring in November 2003 [6], and raw sprouts are considered a "potentially hazardous food'' in the FDA Food Code [7]. The consumer advisory states: ''Those persons who wish to reduce the risk of foodborne illness from sprouts are advised not to eat raw sprouts.'' Particularly vulnerable to foodborne illness are the young, the elderly, and the immunocompromised.

This chapter provides an overview of the incidence and causes of sprout-related foodborne illness, interventions that have been tested for eliminating human pathogens from seeds and sprouts, means for reducing the risk of future outbreaks, and finally, further research needs.

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