Monday, February 15, 2010

Revisiting Alfalfa Sprouts

Pythagorian asked: I read your warning about alfalfa sprouts and wonder how and what bleaching methods you recommend. Also I have read a claim that there has never been a case of sprout contamination traced to certified organic sprouts. Do you know if this is true or false?

The common commercial process is shock chlorination of the seeds and chlorination of the water.

The organic claim will be false. The main issue is you have a protein-rich food source that you are keeping wet and warm for several days. Any bacteria present will thrive. This has nothing to do with the organic status of the food, bacteria is naturally present in the environment. In some ways organic produce may have more bacteria. This is not a bad thing, just a consequence of things growing in the open.

Chlorination will kill the bacteria. Other processes might too. My observation is that there is not much margin for error. Warm and wet, bacteria will double in numbers every 20 minutes and most sprouts are eaten uncooked.

The Chinese eat lots of sprouts, without problems, but they stir-fry them and this kills the pathogens.


  1. Those look like cress sprouts, not alfalfa, just to be difficult.
    I have never, ever in 40-odd years of eating sprouts (mung bean, mustard, alfalfa, cress, etc. Heh, I grew up in Southern California with Hippies, what can I say?) heard anything about bacterial problems eating fresh sprouts. I have both purchased said sprouts plus grown my own. So, interesting. And, well, is it all a tempest in a teacup? I mean, there's nothing inherently wrong with bacteria, after all, we are all just HUGE Science experiments anyway and we certainly need a certain level of the stuff, especially gut bacteria.

    Food for thought, I'll look into it, even though I've certainly consumed acres of the stuff...

  2. You are probably right about the ID of the sprouts - I just wanted a 'clean' image - but the same issues apply. And I am not saying they are universally harmful, just that they are high risk.

    Most bacteria is not harmful, can make things slimey but that's all. It is the pathogens that do the damage - e coli, salmonella, listeria.


Moderation cuts in six days after posting.