Risks of Eating Raw Sprouts

Starting date:
July 25, 2013
Posting date:
July 25, 2013
Type of communication:
Information Update
Source of recall:
Health Canada
Food Safety
General Public
Identification number:


Health Canada is reminding Canadians that raw or undercooked sprouts should not be eaten by young children, older adults, pregnant women or those with weakened immune systems.

Sprouts, such as alfalfa and mung bean, are a popular choice for Canadians as a low-calorie, healthy ingredient for many meals. Onion, radish, mustard and broccoli sprouts, which should not be confused with the actual plant or vegetable, are also common. These sprouts may carry harmful bacteria, such as Salmonella and E. coli, which can lead to serious illness.

Fresh produce can sometimes be contaminated with harmful bacteria while in the field, during growing or harvesting, or during storage and handling. This is of particular concern with sprouts. Many Salmonella and E. coli infections have been linked to contaminated sprouts. Between 1995 and 2012, approximately 1,200 cases of sprout-borne illness were reported in nine outbreaks from five provinces across the country. The largest outbreak in Canada was in 2005, when at least 552 cases of Salmonella were reported in Ontario.  No deaths due to contaminated sprouts have been reported in Canada.

Children younger than five, older adults, pregnant women and those with weakened immune systems are particularly vulnerable to the bacteria that may be present on sprouts and therefore should not eat raw sprouts at all. These individuals should also avoid eating cooked sprouts unless the sprouts have been cooked thoroughly.

Healthy adults who choose to eat sprouts should take precautions to reduce their risk of exposure to harmful bacteria. When purchasing sprouts, always select crisp ones and those that have been refrigerated at or below 4oC (40oF), while avoiding those that are dark in colour or smell musty. Use tongs, a glove or place a bag over your hand to transfer the sprouts into a plastic bag.

Symptoms of Salmonella usually occur eight to 72 hours after eating contaminated food, while symptoms of E. coli can occur within one to 10 days. Symptoms can include nausea, diarrhea, vomiting, fever and stomach cramps. People who experience these symptoms should contact a doctor immediately. In extreme cases, E. coli can lead to acute kidney failure or even death.

Health Canada and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency continue to work with producers to develop and implement best practices that reduce the chance of sprouts becoming contaminated. Health Canada’s Policy on Managing Health Risks Associated with the Consumption of Sprouted Seeds and Beans was released with this in mind.

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