Friday, 4 January 2008

The most dangerous food in the world!

In my previous incarnation as a food chemist I was often asked ''What food shouldn't we eat?"
I'm not sure what people expected me to say.

Butter, maybe.

In the incarnation prior to that one, I worked at the Coroner's Court doing post-mortem drug analyses. No one ever asked me what drugs they shouldn't take.

However, there I am, Food Chemist, at a dinner party or a BBQ and after the obligatory "What do you do for a living?" question I get the "Oh, really? What food shouldn't we eat?" question. Always tricky if you don't know what is on the menu. But few people are ready for my reply.

Alfalfa sprouts.

Yes, those clean, green, biodynamically pumped shoots are one of the most treacherous foods on the menu.

"Surely not! You're joking, right?"


Think about it. Seeds of any sort are open to the environment. They will have bacteria on them. So what do you do with them? You soak them in water and leave them somewhere warm for three days. Water, warmth, and the seed, a good souce of protein. Bacteria heaven.
"But sprouts have been eaten for centuries." they protest.

"Cooked" I respond. Eating sprouts raw is a recent 'healthy' practice.

Cooking sprouts will kill any bacteria.

That doesn't mean that raw sprouts are bad, just that they are high risk. There is no safety net.
You can reduce the risks by using boiled or chlorinated water and changing the water frequently.

"Now, would you like my thoughts on curry powder? Or margarine?"

"Ah ... that's very kind of you but I can see an actuary over there that I have been dying to talk to ... "


Now that I have been studying psychology, people respond with "So, can you tell what I am thinking?"

"Yes, I can. And quite frankly I am shocked."


  1. I would have put my money on tripe and white sauce!

  2. Ah, sprouts, the devil's dangly bits.

  3. Not curry! say it isn't so. surely you jest - no don't tell me. now what does that tell u about me?? :D

  4. thanks for posting this. I rarely will eat any I haven't grown myself and am very careful with growing temps and rinsing. I frequently cook them (not always).

    But how, pray, could well-cared for sprouts be different /worse than any other raw green thing such as salad? or raw red thing such as beets or carrots? All growing happens in dark, moist conditions - It seems to me that the notion of bacterial contamination is the same - worse if you get them commercially prepared.

  5. Salad greens, such as lettuce, rocket & spinach, grow in a largely dry environment. OK, the roots are underground but the leaves are dry. When they are wet, there is not a lot for the bacteria to live on before they dry out. The sprouts provide a good source of protein to bacteria where lettuce is basically just water and fibre. They will have bacteria on them but seldom enough to be an infectious dose and they are usually washed before consumption.

    Root crops are generally impervious to bacteria and, when bacteria do enter into the root through a break in the skin, are discarded because they go brown, soft or slimey. Plus they are more likely to be scrubbed and washed before eating.

    Commercially prepared are probably not as fresh and tasty but generally the commercial growers are better aware of the risks (with sprouts) and more likely to use chlorinated water. Environmentally unfriendly but reduces the risk of consumer illnesses or even death.

    See an article here.

  6. Link to go with the last comment:

    Take 2

  7. Wow... I think I prefer not knowing lest I become anorexic for all the wrong reasons.

    Anyway, there's been an e-mail flying around that people who love eating sashimi would end up with worms in their brains (the pic of the wormy brain was lovingly attached to the email as well).

    I don't see the logic in that though...

  8. The sushimi thing is an urban myth. Real photos but wrong explanation. See my old favourite: Snopes.

  9. I'm bummed, it makes sense though Thank goodness I haven't eaten sprouts in qiute some time.

  10. I have always been very fussy about washing beansprouts to the point that my family think it is one of my little obsessions. I used to work in a pathology lab briefly, so I do other annoying things, like putting the lid back on jars of jam straight away since I can see the spores raining down in my mind's eye! I shall be dragging the non believers here by the earlobe to read the irrefutable science...
    Happy New Year

  11. There's a high price for being well educated, isn't there?

    Hope 2008 is good to you and your family.

  12. Not that it matters, but the pic is not visible.

    So, maybe little kids, & Gom are not silly to refuse to eat Alfalfa!

    Great post.
    When we were living past lives as publicans, we always got asked,
    "So can you get us cheap booze?" Oh well...

  13. thanks for the detail, I appreciate it. I suspect you have more faith in commercial growers than I, though I'm certain they're well aware of the risks. Sort of like restaurants, there's a gap between the rules and the action.

    Glad to read that chlorinated water helps, our tap water is, and I rinse (fanatically) with that. Also clean my sprouter with mild bleach solution between uses.

  14. ok, back with more questions.

    green things are mostly short chain omega 3. Seeds and beans, with a few exceptions, are mostly omega 6. Clearly something happens betwixt the omega 6 beginning and the omega 3 ending. Perhaps it is the new growing part that is omega three? But that - is the sprout.

    (I don't buy that the business people would necessarily be pushing it if it were true: the evidence is walnut oil. In the US there is no announcement that it is short chain omega 3, yet it is. And while canola is naturally loaded with omega 3, they're trying to alter the rape seed so that it has a 'better shelf life' - which implies to me more omega 6 and less omega 3.)

  15. The following article suggests that, for canola at least, the fatty acid (FA) profile is unchanged by sprouting.

    TY - JOUR

    AU - Barthet, Veronique J.

    AU - Duan, James K.

    T1 - Effect of Sprouting on the Quality and Composition of Canola Seed and Oil

    JO - Journal of the American Oil Chemists' Society

    Y1 - 2005/07//

    VL - 82

    IS - 7

    M3 - Feature

    SP - 511

    EP - 517

    SN - 0003021X

    N1 - Accession Number: BAST05150396Physical Description: table(s); Peer Reviewed ; Bibliography Note: Includes Bibliography; Language: English; Document Type: Feature; Entry Date: 20051007

    N2 - Sprouting has been considered as a damage factor in grading canola. This project deals with the evaluation of the effect of sprouting on the quality and composition of canola seed and oil. Sprouted seeds had lower oil content than nonsprouted seeds as determined by exhaustive petroleum ether extraction. The difference, although statistically significant, was small, less than 0.1[percent] oil at the maximum level of sprouting allowed in top-grade canola. There were no differences in chlorophyll contents or moisture contents between sound and sprouted seeds. Sprouted seeds had significantly higher levels of FFA and crude protein than sound seeds. Oxidation parameters (diene and aldehyde) were higher in oils from sound seeds than oils from sprouted seeds, but there was no statistically significant difference in PV. Sprouted seeds had higher levels of tocopherols and sucrose, but lower levels of raffinose, stachyose, and total sugars than sound seeds. There was no difference in overall FA composition of the oil between sound and sprouted seeds. The second extraction of the Federation of Oils Seeds and Fat Associations (FOSFA) extraction method, which allowed the extraction of more polar lipids, contained significantly more saturated FA. However, this was not significant in the overall FA composition of the oils because this fraction counted for about 2[percent] of the total lipid content. The presence of sprouted seed had an effect on results for oil and crude protein determined by NIR as compared with results by FOSFA extraction, or pulsed NMR for oil and Dumas combustion for crude protein. Addition of sprouted seed samples to the NIR calibration set overcame this problem. These results suggested that sprouting did not have a highly damaging effect on the quality and composition of canola seed and oil when less than 10[percent] of the seeds in a sample were sprouting. Reprinted by permission of the publisher.


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