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Study looks at the danger of ambient water ‘sprouting’ and solutions

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 Soaking “sprouted” foods at room temperature creates the risk of salmonella growth on popular snack foods, according to an Oregon State University study. The study is intended to provide information for both the industry and regulators.

“If this soaking phase happens at ambient temperature, then there is a significant food safety problem,” said Joy Waite-Cusic, OSU Extension’s statewide specialist for home food safety and food preservation in the College of Public Health and Human Sciences. “This study provides regulators with clear guidance on the risks associated with this new category of ‘sprouted’ products.”

The study, published in Food Protection Trends, demonstrates the risk of room temperature “sprouting” practices and presents strategies to improve the safety of these products.

The “sprouting” process consists of an overnight soak of raw ingredients in water often at room temperature. However, this soaking stage of “sprouting” may create an environment that could support the growth of various microorganisms, including Salmonella.

“Because they’re raw and minimally processed they are more likely to carry pathogens,” Waite-Cusic said. “The ambient-temperature soaking process creates conditions that are ripe for salmonella growth. A lot of people are making ‘sprouted’ foods at home, so there’s no reason the same risk doesn’t occur there.”

 Grains, nuts and seeds are important ingredients for healthy snacks because of their protein and healthy fats, antioxidants, fiber and mineral content. 

“The potential for grains, nuts and seeds to be contaminated with low levels of salmonella or other foodborne pathogens is a significant risk,” Waite-Cusic said. “However, the risk for foodborne illness increases significantly if processing steps support the proliferation of these pathogens.”

The study found that there are solutions that would help mitigate the risks of microorganisms growing during “sprouting”, including refrigeration and salt. Soaking “sprouted” foods in cold water lowers the risk of salmonella growth.

“Through our conversations with industry partners, including salt in the soaking process and refrigeration were determined to be the most cost-effective and easily implementable options for modifying current procedures,” Waite-Cusic said.

The full study can be viewed here.

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