Canadian scientists claim to have discovered a safe and effective way to sanitize seeds used to produce sprouts.
Prof. Keith Warriner and his colleagues at the University of Guelph, have developed a sanitizer to kill pathogens such as salmonella and E. coli, using the same chemicals used in toothpaste and contact lens solutions.
"It's like a magic bullet. And what we mean by a magic bullet is that it can selectively kill the bacteria but leave the seed alone." Warriner told CTV News.
Adding an oxycholoro-based sanitizer, called Germin-8-or, to the water decontaminates sprout seeds as they germinate, claim the researchers, in their work published in the Journal of Food Protection.
Warriner, an assistant professor of food microbiology and lead researcher, said in a written statement, "We developed a sanitizer that you just add to the steep water when the seeds start to germinate."
"No one has ever done this before because if you add most sanitizers to the steep water, not only would the pathogens be killed, but also the developing sprouts. The secret of our development is that it's phytocompatible -- it doesn't affect plant tissue; it affects only pathogens." he added.
As a rich source of vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals, bean, alfalfa and other sprouts are popogated for their ability to reduce the risk of cancer and to fight cholesterol.
But the method of producing the sprouts leads to contamination, creating risks to its health benefits. The seeds are germinated in a humid environment for three to seven days. This provides ideal conditions for the bacteria to multiply. As most sprouts are eaten raw, the bacteria are not killed.
Sarah Wilson of the Food Safety Network said, "Certain groups, such as the young, seniors, pregnant women and people with compromised (immune systems), are advised against eating sprouts".
, There has been a sprout-related food-borne illness outbreak every year in North America, since 1980, according to Warriner.
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency advises that eating raw sprouts or lightly cooked moong bean sprouts produces a risk of exposure to salmonella or E. coli.
Warriner recommends the sanitizer to be safe and environment- friendly. "There's actually no residue at all," he said.
A global patent for the sanitizer has been submitted and its producers are seeking regulatory approval besides looking for distributors in North America.