Bacillus cereus is a spore forming bacteria that can befound in plants and soils. B. cereus food poisoning is the general description, although two recognized types of illness are caused by two distinct metabolites. The diarrheal type of illness is caused by a large molecular weight protein, while the vomiting (emetic) type of illness is believed to be caused by a low molecular weight, heat-stable peptide.
In 1973 this organism was linked to one of the firstsprout-associated outbreaks (1, 2, 3). Home-sprouting kits imported into the U. S.from Switzerland had a mixture of soy, mustard and cress seeds that werecontaminated with B cereus either in pure culture or as a minor part ofthe flora. After germination, all the sprouts contained large numbers of theorganism (2).
Bacteriologic investigation revealed that during seedgermination B. cereus proliferated to >107per g ofsprouts. In 1987, Harmon et al. (4)recovered B. cereus from 57% of commercially sold alfalfa, mung bean, andwheat seeds intended for sprout production.
1. Feng P. 1997. A Summary of BackgroundInformation and Foodborne Illness Associated With the Consumption of Sprouts.Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition. Washington.
2. Taormina PJ, Beuchat LR, Slusker R.1999. Infections associated with eating seed sprouts: An international concern.Emerg Infect Dis; 5: 629-634.
3. Portnoy BL, Goepfert JM, Harmon SM., 1976. An outbreak of Bacillus cereus food poisoning resulting from contaminated vegetable sprouts. Am J Epidemiol 1976 Jun;103(6):589-94.
4. Harmon SM, Kautter DA, Soloman HM. Bacilluscereus contamination of seeds and vegetable sprouts grown in a home sproutingkit. J Food Protection 1987;50:62-5.