Raw seed sprouts are a risk to eat

Raw seed sprouts can carry harmful bacteria like Salmonella and E. coli. Learn how to reduce the risks.

What are seed sprouts?

Sprouts are produced from germinated seeds. Types of sprouts include alfalfa, radish, and mung beans.

Sprouts are healthy sources of essential nutrients. But they are also high-risk foods.

Why eating seed sprouts can be risky

The seeds which produce sprouts can have harmful bacteria. The bacteria are usually found on the outside of seeds but can also be inside. In sprouts, the 3 harmful bacteria found most often are:

  • Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC)
  • Salmonella
  • Listeria.

Most of the time, sprouts are produced in warm water. These are perfect conditions for bacteria from a single seed to spread.

Raw seed sprouts have been the cause of foodborne outbreaks in New Zealand and overseas.

The types of bacteria that can be found in raw seed sprouts

Some people at greater risk from sprouts

Eating raw sprouts carries a risk of illness for everyone. But for some, the risk is greater. People who should not eat them include:

  • young children and babies
  • pregnant women
  • older people, especially those with underlying health conditions
  • people who've recently had an operation
  • people who have a chronic illness, low immunity, or have been advised to take extra care with food safety.

Find out more

Food for people with low immunity

Food and pregnancy

Food safety for babies

How to make sprouts safe to eat

The only way to make sprouts completely safe is to cook them thoroughly. Washing the sprouts will not eliminate the bacteria.

Sprouting seeds at home

If you want to sprout seeds at home, reduce the risk of getting sick by:

  • always using seeds for human consumption
  • thoroughly cleaning and sanitising your equipment before use
  • washing your hands before and after handling seeds
  • eating sprouts within 2 days of them sprouting
  • cooking them when possible.

Buying sprouted seeds

Shop-bought sprouts are generally safer than growing your own. That's because they're grown from suitable seeds under controlled conditions.

But the risk of illness can never be eliminated. Raw sprouts should be:

  • stored according to the instructions on the label
  • consumed before their use-by date.

Who to contact

If you have questions about raw seed sprouts, email info@mpi.govt.nz

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