The One 'Healthy' Food Experts Say You Shouldn't Eat

July 1st 2016

Lucy Tiven

Crunchy raw sprouts may be a tasty way to dress up a hum-drum sandwich, but it turns out they can also carry dangerous germs, according to a Wednesday report from the Association of Public Health Laboratories.

"Did you know that many food safety experts list sprouts at the top of their “Do Not Eat” lists?" asks the report's author, Caitlin Saucier Feltner.

I, for one, did not.

What makes a sprout a sprout?

Before we dive into the health hazards of consuming these greens, it's worth pointing out that the food colloquially known as "sprouts" includes an assortment of plants: alfalfa, broccoli, mung bean, and radish, according to the Colorado Integrated Food Safety Center of Excellence.

Sprouts are best grown in warm, humid conditions — the very same conditions that bacteria thrives in, as the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services points out.

For this reason, they can easily become carriers of E.coli, Salmonella, and Listeria.

Though sprouts are chilled when they are transported to grocery stores and restaurants, they can also be exposed to humidity and heat during this journey, which allows bacteria to grow, the Huffington Post pointed out.

In February, two cases of contaminated alfalfa sprouts made headlines — a interstate salmonella outbreak that impacted Kansas, Oklahoma, Missouri and Pennsylvania, and an E. coli outbreak traced to Jack & The Green Sprouts, in Wisconsin, NPR reported.

The sandwich chain Jimmy John's has dealt with numerous E.coli and salmonella outbreaks in sprouts, and now requires those who order them online to consent to the possible health risks via a pop-up window.

Is there anything to be done?

Though your risk of illness is the highest when you consume sprouts raw, they can still carry the bacteria after being cooked for a short amount of time. Washing won't fully eliminate the risks either, according to FDA scientists.

The only way to significantly mitigate these risks is to cook them thoroughly, which also rids the sprouts of their texture. As it turns out, the only safe sprouts are soggy sprouts, which sounds worse than having no sprouts at all.