E Coli 0104:H4 outbreak and evolution
The recent outbreak in Germany and France caused by the bacteria E Coli 0104:H4 managed to put many people off cucumbers, tomatoes and finally the sprouts. In the food safety community, we always say 'If you do not get any particular food source, blame the sprouts' and most of the time these popular ones are always the sprouts. Sprouts are grown in humid atmosphere with plenty of moisture and any bacteria that gets into the loop can proliferate. Sprouts also offer a lot of 'real estate' to the bacteria because of its high surface area to mass ratio (bacteria such as the E Coli 0104:H4 stick to the surface). If we eat 50 gms of cucumber and 50 gms of sprouts, the total bacteria that we get from sprouts will be much higher. We can compare that to dosa and idli. Dosa has a higher surface area to mass ratio and if we are to put chilli powder on the surface, we would need more powder for dosa and less for idli. Sprouts are also eaten raw and any bacteria that is on the surface will reach our gut without much of a trouble.

How about the bacteria itself? E Coli 0104:H4 is capable of producing toxins that can cause necrosis of kidney cells and the bacteria is resistant to 14 kinds of antibiotics. This is not a good sign at all. Antibiotics that are widely used in animal farming created a selective pressure that led to the emergence of antibiotic resistant bacterial strains of E Coli. The resistant ones are out on a rampage and in the future we are likely to see more of such bacteria.

Even with all these information, iIt is hard to believe that there are a lot of people out there who still do not believe in evolution!
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Bobby, is there a way to reduce the risk associated with eating sprouts without reducing their nutrition content significantly?
"Fossil rabbits in the Precambrian"
~ J.B.S.Haldane, on being asked to falsify evolution.
(22-Jul-2011, 06:34 PM)Ajita Kamal Wrote: Bobby, is there a way to reduce the risk associated with eating sprouts without reducing their nutrition content significantly?

In this particular outbreak in Germany, the seeds were contaminated and then the bacterial proliferation took place during the sprouting process ( thanks to the moist environment!). There were several other sprout related outbreaks linked to contaminated water and dirty hands. If we heat a product before we eat it, we can guarantee that microbial risk can be significantly reduced. But, if heat treatment is not used, we have to depend on the 'safe sprouting' methods.

The easiest way to reduce risk is to avoid eating sprouts when you are sick or immunocompromised. Under normal conditions, the probability that you get seriously ill with a bacterial (E Coli/salmonella/listeria) infection from eating sprouts is extremely low and can be compared to the probability of death from a motor accident. The reasons are: 1. because you may not eat sprouts much ( do you?), 2. because such E Coli ( the highly virulant strains) are very rare, and 3. because you are a healthy individual, and 4. because you have access to good medical facilities/doctors. The outbreak in Germany got a bit nasty because the doctor's did not really handle the cases well. They put the patients on antibiotics which in fact led to more complications ( bacteria produced more toxin when pushed hard that kills the kidney tissue). Americans would have put the people on dialysis which kind of dilutes the toxin taking the pressure of the kidneys.

So, you can continue to eat sprouts without worry unless it is a significant part of your regular diet. Avoid eating sprouts when you are sick. IGrow sprouts in clean water and eat them fresh.


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