Raw Seed Sprout Storage and Handling

The purpose of this advisory is to provide proper storage and handling guidelines for retail food facility operators, and to prevent foodborne illness associated with the consumption of raw seed sprouts.

The State of California, Department of Public Health recognizes raw seed sprouts to be a potentially hazardous food. Raw seed sprouts have been shown to support the rapid and progressive growth of infectious microorganisms such as Salmonella spp. and Escherichia coli 0157:H7. Since 1995, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has also recognized raw seed sprouts as a source of foodborne illness in the United States. In addition, the FDA has listed raw seed sprouts as a “Potentially Hazardous Food” in the 1999 Federal Model Food Code.

Alfalfa sprouts, the most common form of raw seed sprouts available in the market place, have been the cause of most reported sprout-related foodborne illness outbreaks. Other types of sprouts that have also been implicated in reported sprout-related foodborne illness outbreaks are radish sprouts, clover sprouts, and mung bean sprouts. In most reported sprout-related outbreaks, the likely source of contamination was the seed. However, unsafe food practices have also contributed to the contamination of sprouts.

In order to minimize the contamination of sprouts due to unsafe food practices, retail food facility operators handling, storing or serving raw seed sprouts shall comply with the following guidelines:

  1. Raw seed sprouts shall be held under refrigeration at a temperature not to exceed 41°F
  2. All operators handling raw seed sprouts shall employ good personal hygiene practices. Examples of good personal hygiene are:
    1. Hands shall be washed with warm water and soap for at least 20 seconds before and after handling sprouts
    2. Employees with open cuts, wounds or sores shall not handle sprouts unless the wound is bandaged and the hand is properly gloved
    3. Employees shall wear clean, outer garments, and hair restraints
  3. Ensure that raw seed sprouts are crisp-looking with buds attached. Remove all musty smelling, dark, or slimy-looking sprouts at once
  4. To minimize bacterial growth, raw seed sprouts should not be held in a display case equipped with automatic misters. Sprouts should be stored in a clean and dry environment
  5. All packaged raw seed sprouts must be labeled "Perishable- keep refrigerated". The label must also contain the following information: common name, net weight, or numerical count; name and place of business where manufactured

For additional information, please contact your Local Environmental Health office or call (626) 430-5200.