Is There Salmonella Risk from Eating Soaked Sprouted Pumpkin or Sunflower Seeds?

pile of raw pumpkin seeds

Newcomers to sprouting may wonder "Is there salmonella risk from eating soaked sprouted pumpkin or sunflower seeds?" Yes there is, and actually those seeds when eaten raw or sprouted can be contaminated with salmonella, E. coli bacteria and many other contaminates. The risk is small, but it's there.

Is There Salmonella Risk from Eating Soaked Sprouted Pumpkin or Sunflower Seeds

Salmonella, E.coli and many other bacteria occur on food sources ranging from lettuce to tomatoes. Seeds are no exception. Bacteria exist all around us, including the soils in which plants are grown. Despite many precautions, sometimes these bacteria get onto foods. While washing foods can decrease the amount of bacteria, all you need is a few under the right conditions to grow and thrive.

The Risk

Food contamination from salmonella bacteria occurs when animals defecate near fields where crops are grown or manures that contain such bacteria are spread onto crops. Typically, when animal manures are used as compost or soil amendments, they must age or break down first. The heat during the decomposition process kills most of the bacteria in the manure, leaving the end products fairly safe to spread onto fields. If care isn't taken to age manures properly and they are spread onto growing crops too soon, the bacteria can contaminate the crop itself.

Countries around the world have different requirements for how farmers grow crops. Recent outbreaks of salmonella and E.coli on pumpkin seeds, for example, comes from pumpkins grown in Mexico. Among sprouts, outbreaks of salmonella occurred on various packaged sprouts purchased at grocery stores during the 1990's. Most of the reported contamination occurred on alfalfa sprouts. Medical News Today reports that salmonella has been found on many raw seeds packaged for direct consumption or sprouting, including sunflower and pumpkin seeds.

You have about the same risk of getting salmonella from seeds sprouted at home as you do from sprouts purchased at the store, so the choice of whether to buy seeds and sprout at home or purchase them is yours. There's really no way to minimize the risk at home, since the contamination usually occurs on the seeds themselves and not during the sprouting process.

Symptoms of Salmonella Poisoning

Salmonella poisoning is also called food poisoning, a catch-all term given to serious symptoms that occur within hours of eating foods contaminated by salmonella, E.coli or the other food-borne bacteria. Symptoms include fever, vomiting, stomach cramps and diarrhea. The illness can last up to a week, and people frequently become dehydrated from the severe gastrointestinal illness, requiring hospitalization. Salmonella poisoning is serious and requires medical attention.

Minimizing Risk

If you're sprouting seeds at home, you can minimize the risk of food poisoning. First, buy only the highest quality seeds you can afford and only use seeds marked for sprouting. While sprouts and seeds grown in the USA have been contaminated with salmonella, E. Coli and other bacteria, it's less likely than seeds grown in other countries with different farming standards.

If buying sprouted seeds at the grocery stores, buy the freshest seeds you can find. Keep them refrigerated and use them quickly. While there may be some bacteria on the sprouts, keeping them cool to cold stops the proliferation of the bacteria.

There's really no way to tell from looking at raw seeds or sprouts to know if they're contaminated or not. Foods grown in the USA are subject to FDA inspection and standards, and growers don't want outbreaks of food borne illnesses any more than you do. The risks of contracting food poisoning from sprouts are minimal, but they do exist. But keep in mind that all foods bear some risk. Outbreaks from lettuce and tomatoes, for example, have also been reported. Keep eating sprouts if you enjoy them. Is there salmonella risk from eating soaked sprouted pumpkin or sunflower seeds? Yes, but it's about the same risk as eating any other vegetable or seeds. Choose your food products carefully, avoid expired foods, keep refrigerated and seek medical attention if you think you're experiencing a food borne illness such as salmonella.

Is There Salmonella Risk from Eating Soaked Sprouted Pumpkin or Sunflower Seeds?