Despite being a nutritionally-dense salad favorite, fresh sprouts haven’t had the best luck lately. Deemed unsafe by everyone by prominent food safety experts, the little greens pose a pretty big risk of E. coli. In fact, guaranteeing the safety of sprouts is almost impossible–which is why Kroger grocery stores have stopped carrying them in their stores.
In a press release from last week, Kroger’s vice president of food safety is quoted as saying this:
Testing and sanitizing by the growers and safe food handling by the consumer are the critical steps to protect against food-borne illness. Sprouts present a unique challenge because pathogens may reside inside of the seeds where they cannot be reached by the currently available processing interventions.
Interestingly, this announcement came just days before a rumor started circulating that after just an eight month hiatus, Jimmy John’s was considering bringing them back. That decision seems unusual, considering how much of a problem JJ’s has had with sprouts, which have been the cause of multiple outbreaks were linked to their sandwiches. And those weren’t even that serious. A 2011 outbreak in Germany killed more than 30 people and infected thousands more.
Which is why food safety lawyers and activists have been calling on all restaurants and grocery stores to either stop selling them, or consider warning labels to let consumer know the hidden risks. But, because the FDA is notoriously bad about dragging their feet on consumer protection matters, it seems unlikely that safety labels are coming any time soon. Thus, pulling sprouts seems like the best way for stores to avoid costly and harmful outbreaks, as well as protect consumers.
However, consumers don’t always appreciate being protected. Sprouts remain a pretty popular food among the public, who would prefer to make their own safety decisions. When Jimmy John’s initially “permanently” (though maybe not really) pulled the crunchy greenery following their last big food safety scare in February, the company’s Facebook page was put on blast by angry consumers who seemed less concerned with getting sick, and more concerned with getting sprouts back. Which is fair–assuming consumers actually have all the information. And many people, it seems, still don’t realize how risky sprouts can be.
To assuage consumers, Kroger noted in their press release today that they would consider whether or not “new technologies and practices” could “consistently produce sprout seeds that do not internalize pathogens, and when sprout processing environments can be enhanced for safety and cleanliness.” If that were shown to be the case, fresh sprouts may make their return to grocery store shelves.
Kroger isn’t the only store to pull sprouts from shelves–Walmart also stopped selling them several years ago. And with the recent increase in foodborne illness, it seems likely that other grocery chains will follow suit, too. If you’re a sprout lover, now may be the best time to start growing them yourself.
Image: Ivaylo Ivanov via Shutterstock