Bean sprout warning from the Health Protection Agency

Those people who have an aversion to bean sprouts will be interested to find that eating them may not be as healthy as some believe.

The UK Health Protection Agency (HPA) is strongly urging caterers and the public to wash and thoroughly cook raw bean sprouts before they are eaten, unless they are clearly labeled as ready to eat. This warning comes on the heels of the detection by a government lab of Salmonella in a sample of raw bean sprouts.

HPA has confirmed 106 cases of Salmonella [enterica_ serotype] Bareilly infections in England (102 cases), Wales (3 cases) and Northern Ireland (1 case). Health Protection Scotland has confirmed 19 cases, all of which are a genetic match for the 106 cases in England.

Bean sprouts, along with other seed sprouts, have a long history of involvement in foodborne disease outbreaks. In 1973, 4 people fell ill after eating raw bean sprouts that were produced using a do-it-yourself kit. The sprouts, when cultured in the lab, produced a pure culture of Bacillus cereus.

The most notorious sprout-related outbreaks took place in Japan in 1996 and 1997. In all, some 12 000 people, many of them school children, were infected with E. coli O157:H7 after consuming contaminated radish sprouts. 12 people died. The sprouts were produced from radish seeds imported into Japan from the USA.