06_0024.jpgHave you seen the new graphic ads that will be placed on cigarette packages?

I get asked all the time what foods I do not eat and what recommend that others not eat.  My top two are raw milk and sprouts – not necessarily in that order.

With the German/French sprout E. coli O104:H4 outbreak going on, and yet another Salmonella sprouts outbreak here in the U.S. following close behind, I am having a hard time keeping up on the number of outbreaks.  I had some 40 on my list a few weeks ago.  That number is growing, as is the need for adequate warnings to consumers.  In September 1998, the FDA issued a warning against sprouts urging:

children, pregnant women and the elderly should not eat alfalfa sprouts until growers find a way to reduce the risk of a potentially deadly bacteria that infects some sprouts, the Food and Drug Administration said this week. The FDA, which is investigating sprout industry practices, said children, the elderly and people with weakened immune systems should avoid eating sprouts. The agency’s statement, issued Monday, repeated similar but little-noticed advice the U.S. Centers for Disease Control gave to doctors and researchers a year ago.

I am also seeing growing outbreaks of bacterial contamination tied to raw milk consumption in the past two years.  The FDA issued similar warnings on raw milk:

Raw milk is milk from cows, sheep, or goats that has not been pasteurized to kill harmful bacteria. This raw, unpasteurized milk can carry dangerous bacteria such as Salmonella, E. coli, and Listeria, which are responsible for causing numerous foodborne illnesses.  These harmful bacteria can seriously affect the health of anyone who drinks raw milk, or eats foods made from raw milk. However, the bacteria in raw milk can be especially dangerous to pregnant women, children, the elderly, and people with weakened immune systems.

Personally I think taking a page out of cigarette advertising makes sense:

Raw Milk and Sprouts are a raw agricultural product and may contain harmful bacteria (not limited to E. coli, Campylobacter, Listeria and Salmonella) and have been linked to serious injury and death. Pregnant women, infants, children, the elderly, and persons with lowered resistance to disease (immune compromised) have the highest risk of harm, which includes bloody diarrhea, vomiting, fever, dehydration, Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome, Guillain-Barre Syndrome, Reactive Arthritis, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, miscarriage, or death.

And, we could add these pictures to the labels as well:

Screen shot 2011-06-27 at 3.28.38 PM.png

Although not all pictured above were sickened by sprouts or raw milk, FDA, feel free to use the warning and the photos – no charge.  By the way, I wonder if I should ask for the $10,000 I donated to the sprout growers?

  • Sam

    I realize irradiation still scares the uneducated masses, but would irradiation of alfalfa seeds (destined for sprouting) eliminate pathogenic bacteria?
    Another option is high pressure processing, which has recently become commercially viable. Just curious…

  • Theresa Kentner

    I think it will pan out like smoking, those who believe that raw milk and sprouts can cause harm, already know this, and the ones who don’t, will never be convinced. (or care)

  • Mary McGonigle-Martin

    Even for kids that don’t get HUS, a week on the potty chair feels like will last forever.

  • Sam, google scholar provide a good starting point for articles. There are several articles about the benefits and safety of irradiation of seeds. A recent can be found at
    International Journal of Food Microbiology
    Volume 146, Issue 2, 30 March 2011, Pages 203-206
    doi:10.1016/j.ijfoodmicro.2011.02.014 | How to Cite or Link Using DOI Cited By in
    Short Communication
    A comparative study on the effectiveness of chlorine dioxide gas, ozone gas and e-beam irradiation treatments for inactivation of pathogens inoculated onto tomato, cantaloupe and lettuce seeds
    V. Trinetta, a, , N. Vaidyaa, R. Lintona and M. Morgana
    a Department of Food Science, Purdue University, 745 Agriculture Mall Drive, West Lafayette, IN 47907, USA
    Received 1 December 2010; revised 14 January 2011; accepted 11 February 2011. Available online 18 February 2011.
    The increase in reported food-borne outbreaks linked with consumption of raw fruits and vegetables has motivated new research focusing on prevention of pre-harvest produce contamination. This study evaluates and compares the effectiveness of three non-thermal technologies, chlorine dioxide gas, ozone gas and e-beam irradiation, for inactivation of Salmonella enterica and Escherichia coli O157:H7 on pre-inoculated tomato, lettuce and cantaloupe seeds, and also their corresponding effect on seeds germination percentage after treatments. Samples were treated with 10 mg/l ClO2 gas for 3 min at 75% relative humidity, with 4.3 mg/l ozone gas for 5 min and with a dose of 7 kGy electron beam for 1 min. Initial load of pathogenic bacteria on seeds was ~ 6 log CFU/g. Results demonstrate that all treatments significantly reduce the initial load of pathogenic bacteria on seeds (p

  • Gabrielle Meunier

    If the FDA cannot force Sprouts to NOT be sold, than they should force a Warning Label. With or without a graphic!! I think the yellow and black warning label would be pretty effective.