FDA cites mung bean sprouts in renewing warning against eating raw sprouts

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Oct 3, 2002 (CIDRAP News) Ð Citing six illnessoutbreaks over the past 2 1/2 years, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) hasupdated its warning about the dangers of eating raw or lightly cooked sproutsto include mung bean sprouts as well as alfalfa sprouts.

"There have been four illness outbreaks associated withmung bean sprouts and two outbreaks associated with alfalfa sprouts in the U.S.between 2000 and 2002," the FDA said in an announcement yesterday. Five ofthose outbreaks were Salmonellainfections, but one recent outbreak consisted of Escherichia coli O157:H7 infections linked with eating alfalfasprouts, the agency said.

The outbreaks have involved people of all ages and bothsexes. The FDA said children, the elderly, those with weakened immune systems,and people who want to lower their risk of foodborne illness should not eat rawor lightly cooked sprouts. Hospitals, day-care centers, nursing homes, andsenior centers should not serve them, officials said.

The FDA announcement referred to a previous warning aboutsprouts issued in July 1999. The warning said all raw sprouts pose a risk andmentioned alfalfa, clover, and radish sprouts specifically; it did not mentionmung bean sprouts.

"Some segments of the sprout industry have madesignificant strides to enhance the safety of their products by followingrecommendations in the 1999 Sprouts Guidance," the FDA announcement said."However, adherence to these guidelines has not been universal, andoutbreaks have continued to occur in association with raw and lightly cookedsprouts."

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported inJanuary 2002 that 15 salmonellosis outbreaks and two outbeaks of E coli O157:H7 associated with sprouts had been reported inthe United States since 1995. The recommended safety step of soaking seeds in acalcium hypochlorite solution is not completely effective, the agency said.

To reduce the risk of illness, the FDA advises consumers tocook all sprouts thoroughly before eating them and to ask that raw sprouts notbe added to restaurant sandwiches and salads. "Homegrown sprouts alsopresent a health risk if eaten raw or lightly cooked," because bacteria onseeds may multiply quickly during sprouting even under clean conditions, theagency said.

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