Why Alfalfa Sprouts are Still Safe and Healthy

By Steve Meyerowitz, author of Sprouts the Miracle Food


In its January 1999 issue, the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) describes two incidences of Salmonella contamination from alfalfa sprouts that took place in 1995. A few comments follow.


These were the first such incidents in the (then) 35-year history of the sprout industry. There were no fatalities.

Both incidents were traced to a single source of contaminated seed imported from the Netherlands.

All alfalfa seeds since 1995 have been subject to strict scrutiny and purification. The sprout industry today is in full compliance with the CDC and USDA.

Sprout contamination makes sensational news for the following reasons:


a) Prior to 1995, the tiny sprout industry was virtually unknown to the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and the US Department of Agriculture (USDA). It attracted great attention because it was new and undiscovered.

b) The USDA and CDC took a greater interest in sprouts because the growing conditions for seeds are also favorable growing conditions for bacteria and, as a raw food, sprouts do not benefit from sterilization by cooking.


c) Sprouts are famous as legendary health foods. The incidence of salmonella is especially newsworthy because of the irony of a health food causing ill health.

Unlike other industries, such as meat, poultry, and tobacco, the tiny $250 million dollar sprout industry has no public relations firm or Washington lobbyists to defend itself. Thus, the public only knows a small part of the story.

The risk factor for contracting salmonella from eating sprouts is far less than that of other common foods.

According to the USDA, each year, salmonella contamination from foods such as poultry, meat, eggs and fresh produce sickens 4 million people annually in the U.S. The two 1995 sprout incidents reached only an estimated 20,000.


According to the FDA, 93% of all bacterial illnesses from human and animal pathogens come from meat, poultry and dairy. In 1995, the CDC documented 15 fatalities caused by reactions to foods such as peanuts, milk, eggs and shellfish. Every year, there are an estimated 9,000 deaths and 81 million illnesses due to unsafe foods. (Wall Street Journal 8/21/98)

In 1997, Cox Newspapers analyzed a USDA computerized database of meat and poultry inspection records for 1996 and found 138,593 instances in which inspectors said food being prepared in packing plants was "certain" to sicken consumers. The database was obtained under the Freedom of Information Act.

Our food supply is not the only source of bacterial infection. Each year, about 2 million people acquire infections while under care in U.S. hospitals and nearly 90,000 people die of them, according William Jarvis of the CDC. (Based on a 1998 survey of 265 U.S. hospitals).


Sprouts are a nutritionally concentrated, pesticide-free, locally grown, fresh produce available year round. It is easily available to populations where fresh foods distribution is too expensive or impractical.

Eating alfalfa sprouts is statistically safer and healthier than eating meat, dairy or poultry. The U.S. food and water supply will never be free of harmful bacteria. Nevertheless, most Americans have confidence that their foods are safe. Sprout growers are working closely with the CDC and USDA to produce safe, healthy, and delicious sprouts.


Sproutman Publications. PO Box 1100. Great Barrington, MA 01230. 413-528-5200x4. Fax 413-528-5201.
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