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Raw Sprouts

Raw Sprouts Not for Child Nutrition Programs

The California Department of Health Services, Food and Drug Branch, states that raw sprouts, including alfalfa, clover, radish, and bean sprouts (such as mung bean and soy bean sprouts) should not be served in child nutrition programs because of the potential for foodborne illness.

Raw alfalfa and clover sprouts have emerged as recognized sources of foodborne illnesses in the United States. Since 1996, at least 12 sprout-associated outbreaks in California and numerous sprout-associated outbreaks in other states have been reported. Although the outbreaks have included healthy individuals of both sexes and all ages, public health officials are particularly concerned about children, the elderly, and those with weakened immune systems. Since these individuals are at greatest risk of developing serious complications if they become ill, they should not eat raw sprouts. The California Department of Health Services emphasizes that alfalfa and clover sprouts should not be served in child nutrition programs, nursing homes, and hospitals.

Salmonella or Escherichia coli (E. coli) O157:H7 infections are the most common illnesses associated with sprout consumption. For most healthy adults, these bacteria cause four to seven days of diarrhea, fever, and abdominal cramps. Although these infections are generally self-limiting in healthy adults, in some individuals, especially young children, the elderly, and those with weakened immune systems, the illness may be much more severe. The bacteria may spread to the blood stream and to other vital organs, and even be life threatening. In some children, E. coli O157:H7 infection causes hemolytic uremic syndrome, a serious illness that can result in kidney failure, anemia, and death.

Raw sprouts present unique food safety problems because:

  • The warm humid conditions needed to grow sprouts are also ideal for the rapid growth of harmful bacteria.
  • Sprouts are generally eaten raw with no additional treatment, such as cooking, which would eliminate harmful bacteria.
  • Washing may reduce the bacterial load. However, it does not eliminate the harmful bacteria that may be present.
  • People may unknowingly eat sprouts in sandwiches and salads purchased at restaurants and delicatessens.
  • Harmful bacteria contamination may not change the appearance, texture, or taste of any food product.

If you have questions, please contact the Nutrition Services Division at 800-952-5609.

Questions:   Nutrition Services Division | 800-952-5609
Last Reviewed: Tuesday, May 12, 2015

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