Alfalfa sprouts are the young shoots of the alfalfa plant eaten within four to seven days of germination. They can be sprinkled on sandwiches, mixed with salads, added to fries or eaten as health food. Since germination of the seeds can be in controlled environments, commercially produced alfalfa has the tendency to cause food - related diseases. They can be a breeding ground for harmful bacteria unless handled with care.
Contaminated seeds are the most likely source of the pathogens involved in the production of sprouts. The conditions of the seed in the field before harvesting can lead to contamination. This is because of the agricultural irrigation water, improperly composed manure, contaminated soil, dirty harvesting equipment, or animal grazing in the field. The packaging and storage process can also introduce the salmonella and E. coli bacterium that are a cause for sprout related diseases.
Contaminated raw sprouts show evidence of Salmonella Saintpaul, which is a strain of bacteria. The warm and humid conditions of the germination of the sprouts are perfect for the aggressive bacterial growth, leading to contamination. It attacks the stomach and intestines causing bloody diarrhea, fever, nausea, vomiting, and abdominal pain. Healthy people have a chance of recovering the poisoning if their immune system is capable. However, children and elderly people with compromised immune system may not.
The other bacteria found in sprouts are E. coli 0157, which cause severe abdominal cramping and diarrhea. Some people show no symptoms, and then they pass it to others who get sick. Seeds are most likely are contaminated by this pathogen from the field. Introduction of human and animal wastes or untreated water in to the field by rivers, ground water or creeks to the seeds cause the presence of pathogens in the seeds.
The process of germinating alfalfa is extremely delicate, as it requires maximum sanitation to avoid contamination. The condition of seeds for planting should be the first point to consider before planting. Improper harvesting and storage of seeds can introduce bacteria that will continue to grow after planting.
The conditions of water for the germinating environment are also an crucial factor so that it is not a breeding ground for bacteria. The wet and humid conditions of the germination process provide the bacteria with a conducive environment for growth and multiplication of salmonella. Using untreated water and exposure to rodents or animals can lead to contamination by E. coli pathogens. The sprouts should not be stored for more than a week after they are ready as there is a danger of contamination during storage.
Choosing a disease resistant variety to plant reduces insect and pathogen attack. Weak seeds are the most vulnerable to attack. Disinfecting seeds and the growing tray with three percent hydrogen peroxide before planting reduces the amount of active pathogens. After planting them, constant monitoring reduces the spread of pathogens. Taking samples and examining them as they germinate allows for representative reading for pathogen control. Use of clean water and constant change of the water rinses the sprouts and this reduce the bacteria count that might be present.
There should be sufficient airflow to allow for ventilation and reduce rotting. Leaving the sprouts standing in water also causes rotting that is a catalyst for bacterial growth. Chemical treatment of sprouts reduces active pathogens in the sprouts, but it unless it is required it should be minimally administered. Extra care while handling ready sprouts by exercising cleanliness gives them a longer shelf life.