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Microbial Hazards of Seed for Sprouting

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Due to concern over, “the continuing outbreaks of foodborne illness associated with the consumption of raw and lightly-cooked sprouts,” the FDA recently released a Draft Guidance entitled, “Reducing Microbial Food Safety Hazards in the Production of Seed for Sprouting Guidance for Industry.”

After reviewing 50 outbreaks of foodborne illness associated with sprouts between 1996-2018, resulting in over 2300 illnesses, the FDA identified seeds as the primary source of contamination.

The FDA classifies everything that can be sprouted, including beans, as “seeds.”  While the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), Produce Safety Rule (PSR), Subpart M addresses sprout food safety, the FDA does not consider seeds for sprouting to be “covered produce,” and therefore, the PSR does not apply to activities such as growing, conditioning, and distributing seeds.

This Guidance provides a list of food safety recommendations for operators who grow, condition, pack, hold, or distribute seeds for sprouting, including assuring food contact surfaces are adequately cleaned and sanitized, and irrigation water is free from pathogens.

Verifying the cleanliness of food contact surfaces through environmental monitoring, testing water for microbial load, and identifying microbial growth are essential components of an FSMA Preventive Controls program.

The FDA is accepting comments on the Guidance until August 26.

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