A New Approach to Solving the Problem
of Sprout Safety
It is not news to anyone who reads this maga- zine that sprouts, specifically green sprouts, have been the poster child for a fresh produce item that causes more than its share of food
safety concerns. In the U.S. and Canada from
1989 to 2016, 58 illness outbreaks were attributed to green sprouts. Of the resultant 4,032
illnesses, 95 percent were caused by Salmonella
and 5 percent by Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli.1
As the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)’s website
states, “In outbreaks associated with sprouts, the seed is typically the source of the bacteria.”
2 Therefore, it isn’t surprising
that much of the research on improving sprout safety has
focused on seed disinfection. FDA’s 1999 guidance on sprout
production mainly covers three areas: Good Manufacturing
Practices (GMPs), seed disinfection (such as “ 20,000 parts per
million calcium hypochlorite”) and irrigation water testing.
The 2017 draft guidance, which grew from 19
pages in 1999 to 125 pages, provides much
more detail but follows the same general areas
of GMPs, seed disinfection and irrigation water testing. The new draft guidance document
does mention that “seed contamination, when
it occurs, may be at low levels….” We’ll come
back to that in a minute.
One of the tenets of creative problem solving is “a problem
well defined is 80 percent solved.” This has been stated by many
wise folks in a number of ways, but the idea is always the same.
For example, Albert Einstein supposedly said, “If you have one
hour to save the world, spend 55 minutes defining the problem
and only 5 minutes finding the solution.” We are not suggesting
that solving the problem of sprout safety is analogous to saving
the world, but with that teaching in mind, we focused and dug
deeply into why sprouts have caused so many illnesses.
process weed out