Pages 20 – 26 of Code of Hygienic Practices for Fresh Fruits and Vegetables
CAC/RCP 53 – 2003 (26 pp)

Secretariat of the Codex Alimentarius Commission

World Health Organization




In recent years the popularity of sprouted seeds has increased dramatically and are favoured by many for their nutritional value. However, the recent increase in reports of food borne illness associated with raw sprouts has raised concerns from public health agencies and consumers about the safety of these products.


The microbial pathogens associated with sprouted seeds are for example Salmonella spp, pathogenicE. coliListeria monocytogenes, and Shigella spp. Outbreak investigations have indicated that microorganisms found on sprouts most likely originate from the seeds. Most seeds supplied to sprout producers are produced primarily for forage or animal grazing where the Good Agricultural Practices (GAPs) necessary to prevent microbial contamination of seeds intended for sprouting are not followed, especially through the misuse of natural fertilizers or contaminated irrigation water. As a result, the seeds may be contaminated in the field or during harvesting, storage or transportation. Typically, the germination process in sprout production involves keeping seeds warm and moist for two to ten days. In these conditions, if low levels of microbial contaminants are present on seeds, they can quickly reach levels high enough to cause illness.


The scientific literature proposes microbiological decontamination of seeds treatments which can achieve different levels of pathogen reduction. There is currently no treatment available that can guarantee pathogen free seeds. Research is in progress to find efficient microbiological decontamination treatments which would provide sufficient pathogen reduction on seeds especially if pathogens are internalized. 




This annex recommends control measures to occur in two areas: during seed production and during sprout production. During seed production, conditioning and storage, the application of Good Agricultural Practices (GAPs) and Good Hygienic Practices (GHPs) are aimed at preventing microbial pathogen contamination of seeds. During sprout production, the microbiological decontamination of seeds step is aimed at reducing potential contaminants and the good hygienic practices at preventing the introduction of microbial pathogens and minimizing their potential growth. The degree of control in these two areas has a significant impact on the safety of sprouts.





This annex covers the hygienic practices that are specific for the primary production of seeds for sprouting and the production of sprouts for human consumption in order to produce a safe and wholesome product.


2.2 USE

This annex follows the format of the Recommended International Code of Practice – General Principles of Food Hygiene CAC/RCP 1-1969, Rev 3 (1997) and should be used in conjunction with the General Principles of Food Hygiene and the Code of Hygienic Practice for Fresh Fruit and Vegetables.


Seed producer – any person responsible for the management of activities associated with the primary production of seeds including post-harvest practices.


Seed distributor – any person responsible for the distribution of seeds (handling, storage and transportation) to sprout producers. Seed distributors may deal with single or multiple seed producers and can be producers themselves.


Sprout producer – any person responsible for the management of the activities associated with the production of sprouted seeds.


Spent irrigation water – water that has been in contact with sprouts during the sprouting process.



Refer to the Code of Hygienic Practice for Fresh Fruits and Vegetables. In addition:


3.2 HYGIENIC PRODUCTION OF SEEDS Manure and biosolids

When seeds are destined for the production of sprouts for human consumption, wild or domestic animals should not be allowed to graze in the fields where seeds are grown (e.g., employing sheep for spring clip back of alfalfa).


It is particularly important to prevent microbial contamination during the production of seeds which will be used to produce sprouts for human consumption because of the potential for pathogens to grow during the sprouting process. Consequently, manure, biosolids and other natural fertilizers should only be used when they have undergone treatments which achieve a high level of pathogen reduction. Agricultural chemicals

Seed producers should only use chemicals (e.g., pesticides, desiccants) which are acceptable for seeds intended for the production of sprouts for human consumption.


3.2.4 Equipment associated with growing and harvesting

Prior to harvest, harvesting equipment should be adjusted to minimize soil intake and seed damage and should be cleaned from any debris or earth. Diseased or damaged seeds, which could be susceptible to microbial contamination, should not be used for the production of sprouts for human consumption.




Seeds produced for the production of sprouts for human consumption should be segregated from product to be seeded or planted for animal feed (e.g., for forage or animal grazing) and clearly labelled. Recognising that seeds are vulnerable to microbial pathogens during thrashing and drying, adequate care is needed to maintain sanitation in drying yards, and exposure of seeds to mist, high humidity and fog should be avoided.



Seed producers, distributors, and sprout producers should test lots of seeds for microbial pathogens using internationally accepted analytical methods. Sprouting seeds before testing increases the possibility of finding pathogens that may be present. If lots of seeds are found to be contaminated, they should not be sold or used for the production of sprouts for human consumption. Because of the limitations associated with sampling methods and analytical tests, failure to find contamination does not guarantee that the seeds are pathogen free. However, if contamination is found at this stage, it allows seeds to be diverted or destroyed before entering sprout production for human consumption. Seed producers, distributors and sprout producers should refer to the Principles for the Establishment and Application of Microbiological Criteria for Foods, CAC/GL 21-1977, for guidance on establishing a sampling plan.



Seed producers for the production of sprouts for human consumption should ensure that records and recall procedures are in place to effectively respond to health risk situations. Procedures should enable the complete and rapid recall of any implicated seed. The procedures should also assist in providing detailed information for the identification and investigation of any contaminated seeds and sprouts. The following should be adopted:


• Seed production and distribution practices should be in place to minimize the quantity of seed identified as a single lot and avoid the mixing of multiple lots that would complicate recalls and provide greater opportunity for cross-contamination. Seed producers and distributors and sprout producers should maintain records for each lot. The lot number, producer and country of origin should be indicated on each container.


• Seed producers should have a system to: effectively identify lots, trace the production sites and agricultural inputs associated with the lots, and allow physical retrieval of the seeds in case of a suspected hazard.


• Where a lot has been recalled because of a health hazard, other lots that were produced under similar conditions (e.g., on the same production sites or with the same agricultural inputs) and which may present a similar hazard should be evaluated for safety. Any lot presenting a similar risk should be recalled. Blends containing potentially contaminated seeds must also be recalled.


• Seeds which may present a hazard must be held and detained until they are disposed of properly.



Refer to the General Principles of Food Hygiene. In addition:


4.2.1 Design and layout

Where appropriate, the internal design and layout of sprout establishments should permit Good Hygiene Practices, including protection against cross-contamination between and during operations. Storage, seed rinsing and microbiological decontamination, germination and packaging areas should be physically separated from each other.




Refer to the General Principles of Food Hygiene. In addition:


5.2.2 Specific process steps in sprout production Water use during sprout production

Water quality management will vary throughout all operations. Sprout producers should follow GMPs to minimize the potential for the introduction or spread of pathogens in processing water. The quality of water used should be dependent on the stage of the operation. Because of the potential for pathogen proliferation during the sprouting process, clean water could be used for initial washing stages, whereas water used later in the sprout production process (i.e., for the rinse following the microbiological decontamination of seed, and subsequent operations) should be preferably of potable quality or at least clean water. Initial rinse

The seeds should be rinsed thoroughly before the microbiological decontamination treatment to remove dirt and increase the efficiency of this treatment.


• Seeds should be rinsed and thoroughly agitated in large volumes of clean water, in such a way to maximize surface contact. The process should be repeated until most of the dirt is removed and rinse water remains clear. Microbiological decontamination of seeds

Due to the difficulty of obtaining seeds which can be guaranteed as pathogen free, it is recommended that seeds be treated prior to the sprouting process. Although there are other options like the use of lactic acid bacteria, liquid microbiological decontamination treatment is generally used. During this treatment sprout producers should adhere to the following:


• All containers used for microbiological decontamination of seeds should be cleaned and disinfected prior to use.


• Seeds should be well agitated in large volumes of antimicrobial agent to maximise surface contact.


• The duration of treatment and the concentration of antimicrobial agent used should be accurately measured and recorded.


• Strict measures should be in place to prevent re-contamination of seeds after the microbiological decontamination treatment.


• Antimicrobial agent should be used according to manufacturer’s instructions for their intended use. Rinse after seed treatment

As appropriate, seeds should be thoroughly rinsed after the microbiological decontamination treatment with potable water or at least clean water. Rinsing should be repeated sufficiently to eliminate antimicrobial agent. Pre-germination soak

Soaking is often necessary to improve germination. When soaking, the sprout producer should adhere to the following:


• All containers used for soaking should be cleaned and disinfected prior to use.


• Seeds should be soaked in cleaned water for the shortest possible time to minimize microbial growth.


• This step may also employ antimicrobial agents.


• After soaking, seeds should be rinsed thoroughly with potable water or at least clean water. Germination

During germination, keep the environment and equipment clean to avoid potential contamination. All equipment should be cleaned and disinfected before each new batch.


• Only potable water should be used.


• Where necessary and when used, soils or other matrices should be treated (e.g., pasteurized) to achieve a high degree of microbial reduction. Harvesting

All equipment should be cleaned and disinfected before each new batch. Harvesting should be done with cleaned and disinfected tools dedicated for this use. Final rinse and cooling

A final water rinse will remove hulls, cool product, and may reduce microbial contamination on sprouts.

The following should be adopted:


• As appropriate, sprouts should be rinsed in cold potable water to lower sprout temperature and slow down microbial growth.


• Water should be changed, as needed (e.g., between batches), to prevent cross- contamination.


• Sprouts should be drained using appropriate equipment (e.g. food grade centrifugal dryer) that is clean and disinfected prior to use.


• If additional cooling time is necessary, steps should be taken to facilitate rapid cooling (e.g. placed in smaller containers with adequate air flow between containers). Storage of finished product

• Where appropriate, sprouts should be kept under cold temperature (e.g. 50C) that will minimize microbial growth for the intended shelf life of the product. Regular and effective monitoring of temperature of storage areas and transport vehicles should be carried out.


5.2.3 Microbiological and other specifications

It is recommended that seed and sprouts or spent irrigation water be tested for the presence of pathogens. Testing of seed lots before entering production

It is recommended that each new lot of seeds received at the sprouting facility is tested before entering production (i.e. before the microbiological decontamination of seeds).


• The seed sample selected for testing should be sprouted prior to analysis to increase the potential to detect pathogens if present. Analysis may be performed on the sprouted seeds or the water used to sprout the sample.


• Seed samples for microbial analysis should not be subject to any microbiological decontamination treatment at the sprouting facility. Testing of sprouts and/or spent irrigation water

Current seed treatments cannot guarantee total elimination of pathogens. Further, if even a few pathogens survive the microbiological decontamination treatment, they can grow to high numbers during sprouting. Therefore, producers should have in place a sampling/testing plan to regularly monitor for pathogens at one or more stages after the start of germination.


• Analyses can be performed during the germination process (e.g., spent irrigation water or sprouts) and/or finished product may be analysed after harvest.


• Testing spent irrigation water is a good indicator of microbial conditions of sprouts. It is homogeneous and is simpler to analyse. Further, sampling spent irrigation water (or sprouts) during germination allows earlier results compared to testing finished product. • Because of the sporadic nature of seed contamination, it is recommended that producers test every production lot.


5.2.4 Microbiological cross-contamination

Sprout producers should adhere to the following:


• The traffic pattern of employees should prevent cross-contamination of sprouts. For example: the employees should avoid going back and forth to various areas of production. The employees should not go from a potentially contaminated area to the germination and/or packaging area unless they have washed their hands and changed to clean protective clothing.



5.3.1 Specifications for incoming seeds


• Sprout producers should recommend that seed producers adopt good agricultural practices and provide evidence that the product was grown according to section 3 of this Annex and theCode of Hygienic Practice for Fresh Fruits and Vegetables.


• Seed and sprout producers should obtain assurance from seed producers or distributors that chemical residues of each incoming lot are within the limits established by the Codex Alimentarius Commission and, where appropriate, they should obtain certificates of analysis for microbial pathogens of concern.


5.3.2 Control of incoming seeds

Seed containers should be examined at their arrival to minimize the potential for introducing obvious contaminants in the establishment.


• Seed containers should be examined for physical damage (e.g., holes from rodents) and signs of contamination (e.g., stains, rodent, insects, faeces, urine, foreign material, etc.). If found to be damaged, contaminated or potentially contaminated, its contents should not be used for the production of sprouts for human consumption.


• If seed lots are analysed for the presence of microbial pathogens of concern, these should not be used until results of analysis are available.


5.3.3 Seed storage

Seeds should be handled and stored in a manner that will prevent damage and contamination.


• Seeds should be stored off the floor, away from walls and in proper storage conditions to prevent mould and bacterial growth and facilitate pest control inspection.


• Open containers should be stored in such a way that they are protected from pests and other sources of contamination.



Refer to the Code of Hygienic Practice for Fresh Fruits and Vegetables. In addition:


Written records that accurately reflect product information and operational controls should be available to demonstrate the adequacy of the production activities.


• Upon receipt of seeds, records should be maintained of the seed supplier, the lot number and the country of origin to facilitate recall procedures.


• Records should be legible, permanent and accurate. Records should include written procedures, controls, limits, monitoring results and subsequent follow-up documents. Records must include: seed sources and lot numbers, water analysis results, sanitation checks, pest control monitoring, sprout lot codes, analysis results, production volumes, storage temperature monitoring, product distribution and consumer complaints.


• Records should be kept long enough to facilitate recalls and food borne illness investigation, if required. This period will likely be much longer than the shelf life of the product.




Refer to the General Principles of Food Hygiene.




Refer to the General Principles of Food Hygiene.




Refer to the General Principles of Food Hygiene.




Refer to the General Principles of Food Hygiene.




Refer to the General Principles of Food Hygiene. In addition:



Refer to the Code of Hygienic Practice for Fresh Fruits and Vegetables. In addition:


• The producer should have a written training program that is routinely reviewed and updated. Systems should be in place to ensure that food handlers remain aware of all procedures necessary to maintain the safety of sprouts.