Microbiological Safety Evaluations and Recommendations On Sprouted Seeds

Microbiological Safety Evaluations and Recommendations on Sprouted Seeds
National Advisory Committee on Microbiological Criteria for Foods.
Int J Food Microbiol 1999 Nov 15;52(3):123-53.

In 1997, the National Advisory Committee on Microbiological Criteria for Foods (NACMCF/the Committee) was asked to review the current literature on sprout-associated outbreaks: identify the organisms and production practices of greatest public health concern: prioritize research needs: and provide recommendations on intervention and prevention strategies. In response to this charge, the Fresh Produce Work Group (FPWG) documented the relevant epidemiology and microbial ecology of sprout-associated outbreaks and reviewed current industry practices and initiatives related to the growing of seed and the production of sprouts. Sprouts have been identified as a special problem because of the potential for pathogen growth during the sprouting process. If pathogens are present on or in the seed, sprouting conditions may favor their proliferation. There is no inherent step in the production of raw sprouts to reduce or eliminate pathogens. Contaminated seed is the likely source for most reported sprout-associated outbreaks. Research has been initiated on methods to reduce or eliminate pathogenic bacteria on seeds and sprouts and some treatments show promise. However, to date, no single treatment has been shown to completely eliminate pathogens under experimental conditions used. Finally, the Committee found that, at the time of the charge, there was a lack of fundamental food safety knowledge along the continuum from seed production through sprout consumption. More recently, many have become aware of the potential for this food to be a vehicle for foodborne illness and the need for appropriate controls: however, such awareness is not universal. Although seed appears to be the most likely source of contamination in sprout associated outbreaks, practices and conditions at the sprouting facility may also impact on the safety of the finished product. In recent sprout-associated outbreak investigations, facilities associated with outbreaks did not consistently apply seed disinfection treatments prior to sprouting. Conversely, facilities that used seed from the same lot as an implicated facility, but had not been associated with reported illnesses, appear to have been consistently using seed disinfection treatments, such as 20,000 ppm calcium hypochlorite, to disinfect seed prior to sprouting. The Committee has developed a number of specific recommendations, including: 1. The knowledge of all interested parties pertaining to the microbiological safety of sprouted seeds must be enhanced; government and industry should develop education programs for seed and sprout producers on basic principles for microbiological food safety, good agricultural practices, good manufacturing practices, and hazard analysis and critical control point (HACCP) systems. 2. Good agricultural practices should be systematically implemented to reduce the potential for microbial contamination of seeds for sprout production. 3. Seed cleaning, storage, and handling practices that minimize the potential for microbial contamination should be developed and implemented. 4. Seeds should be treated with one or more treatments that have been shown to reduce pathogenic bacteria that may be present. Intervention strategies that deliver less than a given reduction (at this time, 5-log) in levels of Salmonella spp. and enterohemorrhagic Escherichia coli O157 should be coupled with a microbiological testing program. 5. Establish good manufacturing practices and food safety systems, including regulatory oversight, microbial testing, adoption of HACCP, and improved traceback, that systematically look for means to prevent seeds from serving as the vehicle for foodborne disease, and 6. Conduct research related to the microbiological safety of sprouted seeds, particularly in the areas of pathogen reduction or elimination, sources of contamination and its prevention, and preventing or retarding pathogen growth during sprouting.