Sprouted grains might just be the next food fad. These little sprouts are packed with healthy nutrients, and some varieties you are likely to find at your local grocery store include alfalfa, clover and mung bean sprouts. Lesser known varieties of sprouts can include sunflower, radish, lentil and broccoli.
Though sprouts boast a healthy nutrient profile, they also can carry an important warning label. Historically, sprouts have been targeted as a source of E. coli, Listeria and Salmonella outbreaks that caused a number of illnesses across the U.S. The source of contamination can come from bacteria that is inside the seed and can’t simply be washed off. Additionally, sprouts, just like any other food, are subject to cross-contamination from external sources during harvesting, transport and storage at your local grocery store. This could include run-off from animal agriculture systems, manure used to fertilize plants and using contaminated water to wash produce.
With an increase in popularity of local foods and going as close to the source as possible for ingredients, sprouting at home has become more and more popular. But sprouting your own grains at home does not automatically mean that they are free from contamination. When sprouting at home, it's important to keep in mind some quick tips to limit the growth of harmful bacteria during the process.
Sanitize Your Sprouting Container
Be sure to properly clean whatever jar or container you are going to use to sprout your seeds. Soak it in a bowl with hot water and a splash of bleach for 2 minutes to ensure that it is free of any bacteria.
Use Filtered or Bottled Water
During the sprouting process, the only ingredient other than the seed itself is water. Using tap water might introduce potential contaminants into the process. Be sure to use bottled or filtered water that is safe and clean for both the soaking and rinsing process.
Rinse Your Sprouts Frequently
Seeds from legumes and grains have a high carbohydrate content, which can be a perfect place for bacteria to grow and reproduce. Help prevent bacterial growth by rinsing your sprouts at least twice a day. If you plan to eat your sprouts raw, you may want to rinse as often as every 6 hours.
Avoid Standing Water
Bacteria thrive in moist, humid environments. Once your grains have sprouted, be sure to empty any standing water from the container after rinsing. This standing water can become a pool for bacterial growth.
Store Your Sprouts in a Dry, Cool Location
Bacteria prefer to grow and reproduce the fastest between 70° to 125° F. Make sure to keep your sprouts in a cooler, darker portion of your kitchen away from direct sunlight.
Wash and Wait
Don’t rinse your sprouts right before you put them in the fridge as the extra water can reduce their shelf life. After the last rinse, wait 8 to 12 hours to place them in the fridge, so they have had a little bit of time to dry. You also can lightly dry them in a clean paper towel after the final rinse before placing them in the fridge. This will help to keep them fresh longer once they are refrigerated.
Enjoy Within 7 Days
Sprout only enough seeds that you will be able to eat within a week. Do not let your sprouts sit in the fridge for longer than 10 days, as this increases the risk of bacterial growth.
By following these tips, you can help to limit any possible bacterial contamination of your sprouts at home. However, keep in mind that there is no way to ensure that the sprouts are entirely bacteria-free, and it is not advised for older adults, pregnant individuals, infants or immunocompromised individuals to consume raw sprouts. In that case, simply steam or sauté the sprouts in a dish that is heated to 145°F for at least 15 seconds in order to kill any harmful bacteria that might be lurking.