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Publication #FCS8745

Sprouts: Safe Handling Practices for Consumers1

Amy Simonne2

Sprouts have become regular items in salad bars and produce departments during the past few years. However, they have been linked to a few outbreaks of foodborne illnesses. Although the federal government and sprout producers are working together to ensure safety of the product, consumers must make take some steps to protect themselves. Understanding how sprouts are produced and handled before they reach your plate, and making good decisions may help reduce your risk of foodborne illness from sprouts.

Figure 1. 
[Click thumbnail to enlarge.]

Why Are There Problems?

Sprouts can be grown from many types of seeds: alfalfa, radish, broccoli, mung bean, wheat, and soybean.

Since seed sprouts are produced as agricultural commodities, they do not have the same cleanliness requirements as processed foods.

A wide variety of pathogens (organisms that cause illness) have been found in seed sprouts.

Many species of pathogens can survive on the seeds for months.

It is very difficult to detect these pathogens when they are present in low numbers.

When Sprouts are Grown

Sprouts are grown in moist and warm conditions. These conditions are also ideal for bacteria to multiply.

Many interventions have been tried to reduce the bacterial growth and contamination in sprouts. However, none of these methods can totally reduce harmful bacteria on sprouts.

When You Shop

Sprouts must be in the refrigerated section of the store. This helps to control bacterial growth.

Examine the package carefully for any sign of spoilage and check the "sell by" date. Do not purchase if the date has passed.

During Preparation

Wash hands with hot, soapy water before and after:

  • handling fresh produce

  • handling raw meat, poultry, or seafood

  • using the bathroom

  • changing diapers

  • handling pets

Rinse sprouts with cool tap water just before preparing or eating. Do not use soap or detergents.

Washing reduces bacterial population on the surface, but does not eliminate all the bacteria.

Pregnant women, and persons under age 5 or over 65, persons with AIDS or using medications that cause depression of immunity should never consume raw sprouts. Susceptible individuals can enjoy cooked or blanched sprouts.

Wash cutting boards, dishes, utensils, and counter tops often. Use hot soapy water and rinse well. Sanitize them after contact with fresh produce, or raw meat, poultry, or seafood (see below).

Sanitize kitchen sink frequently to prevent a build up of microbes.

Do not cross contaminate! Use clean cutting boards and utensils for fresh produce. If you can, use a separate cutting board for raw meat, poultry, and seafood.

Do not consume ice that has come in contact with fresh produce or other raw products.

Use a cooler with ice or ice gel packs when you take perishable foods outdoors. This includes sprouts. Following these steps will help reduce your risk of foodborne illness from sprouts.

To sanitize cutting boards, dishes, and utensils

Table 1. 

Mix one teaspoon chlorine bleach in one quart water.

Pour the mixture onto all surfaces or submerge appropriate items into the above solution and let sit at least one minute.

Rinse surfaces well with hot running water.

For More Information

You can visit the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) website at: or call FDA Consumer Inquiries at 1-888-SAFEFOOD (a toll-free number).



This document is FCS8745, one of a series of the Family, Youth and Community Sciences Department, UF/IFAS Extension. Original publication date October 2002. Reviewed July 2015. Visit the EDIS website at


Amy Simonne, Ph.D., associate professor, Department of Family, Youth and Community Sciences, UF/IFAS Extension, Gainesville, FL 32611.

The Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS) is an Equal Opportunity Institution authorized to provide research, educational information and other services only to individuals and institutions that function with non-discrimination with respect to race, creed, color, religion, age, disability, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, national origin, political opinions or affiliations. For more information on obtaining other UF/IFAS Extension publications, contact your county's UF/IFAS Extension office.

U.S. Department of Agriculture, UF/IFAS Extension Service, University of Florida, IFAS, Florida A & M University Cooperative Extension Program, and Boards of County Commissioners Cooperating. Nick T. Place, dean for UF/IFAS Extension.