Thursday, October 18, 2007

Can I Eat Bean Sprouts During Pregnancy?

Someone found this blog by searching google for the phrase "Can I eat bean sprouts during pregnancy". Seems like a funny question, but I suspect it's related to a health scare in Toronto when a number of people were infected with salmonella from eating bean sprouts.

Most people who are infected with salmonella will get over it, although they'll have vomiting and diarrhoea and feel extremely rough. But the very young, the very old, immune compromised people and pregnant women may be more severely affected and can die, so it's not to be taken lightly. Good hygiene that we all know about helps prevent its spread - washing hands, cleaning work surfaces, keeping fresh food refrigerated, cooking meat, eggs and chilled or frozen foods thoroughly etc.

There seems to be no particular reason why bean sprouts would harbour salmonella more than any other food. This isolated case in Canada seems to be a freak, rather than a timely warning that we should all avoid those dangerous killer alfalfa sprouts. The usual advice on salmonella says "Cook foods thoroughly", but that's very confusing. Does it mean we shouldn't eat salad? How about fruit? It's this kind of thing that helps drive people to ready meals and hamburgers because they're scared of eating fresh healthy food like bean sprouts and eggs.

For example, a few years ago seven people in the UK died from legionnaire's disease traced to an arts centre. But of course that doesn't mean arts centres are dangerous. A badly-maintained air conditioning unit was the cause. Similarly, it doesn't seem justified to point the finger at bean sprouts in general just because they were linked to this outbreak in Toronto. Poor food hygeine at some stage must have been the cause. And if that happens again, next time it could strike spinach, or apricots, or watercress, or anything else. When you think about it like this, it seems crazy to avoid bean sprouts.

I'm not a doctor, I'm not a biologist and I'm not the FDA. But I'd say bean sprouts are one of the healthiest things you can eat. If you're pregnant or immune compromised and you'd really rather not risk it, then I respect that. But what are you going to eat instead? Are you going to ask the restaurant to serve your salad without bean sprouts? If the restaurant has poor kitchen hygiene, you could still get sick from the uncooked lettuce and tomatoes. If you are going to opt for a BLT from the sandwich place rather than a salad sandwich with beansprouts, aren't you worried about all the saturated fats, salt, nitrates and so on in the BLT, not to mention that uncooked lettuce and tomato again? I think the salad is the healthier option, even with the bean sprouts. What do you think?


Steph in Roker said...

Aarghhh! Health advice during pregnany. Aaarghhh! This got me riled (can you tell?) during both my pregnancies. Like the 'don't eat uncooked eggs' advice, whiuch dates back to when shop-bought eggs didn't have the dates stamped on them, and were kept in warm, if not hot, grocers windows in trays. UK eggs with the Lion mark and dates on them are 99.99999% clear of nasty stuff. Yet in 2003 the UK National Health System were still issuing leaflets, with no explination of why.
I got cravings for liver, so asked the Midwife, as there's anti-liver-whilst-preggers advice issued. Apparantly, what happened was some years ago a pregnant woman ate pounds of the stuff and got vitamin b (?I think I remember that right) poisoning, but now there's a blanket rule against liver for no sensible reason. Arghhhhh! I think I need to go and do some breathing & relaxation exercises now, which you taught me, Mel.

kethry said...

doing anything right when you're a mom/pregnant? forget it. not gonna happen. Even when you think you're on safe ground *someone* will come up with some reason why what you're eating/doing is bad for the baby.

anyone who is pregnant/a mom has to read all the facts.. and make their own mind up. Guerrilla mom.. ridin' the highways of momhood!! (and no, i'm not a mom.. yet.)

donna said...

Mel, technical question- how do you find out that someone has found the blog by googling?

Melanie Rimmer said...

At the bottom of the Bean Sprouts front page where it says something like "54,643 visitors since June 30 2006", that's my sitemeter. If you click on it, it tells you how many people visited the page in the last hour, since midnight, this week etc. If you then click on "Recent visitors by referrals" in the left hand sidebar, it shows the last 100 visits with some details including how long they stayed, how many pages they viewed, and sometimes how they reached the site. For example, if they followed a link from another webpage, that linking webpage would be shown. It also shows if they came from a search engine, and what search term was used. If they know the URL and just typed it into the browser themselves, then the referrer is "unknown".

Sitemeter is free. You can add it to your own webpage and track your visitor numbers. I think you can upgrade to a paid account and get some extra functionality but I haven't done that.

heather t said...

Oh, yeah. I hate this whole pregnancy/food thing. You can probably find an argument against every kind of food while pregnant if you look hard enough.

That said, we've seen to have had a lot of news-worthy food bacterial outbreaks this year in the States, mostly related to large commercial farming. Sometimes I think the best way to ensure your food's safety is to grow your own. I think if you're sprouting your own seeds, there is very little risk of infection if you take basic, common-sense precautions like washing hands, clean jars, etc.

donna said...

thanks for that mel, i'll have a look

flutterby said...

it's vitamin A in liver, in the States huge amounts were being consumed in order to overcome iron deficiency issues and babies were being born with deformities, there was also vitamin A added to pregnancy vitamin tablets so huge overdosing going on!
i've eaten liver in all 3 (& i will eat it this time just haven't yet) pregnancies as i crave it usually! the key is to not eat in excess. some things do have genuine health risks but as you point out Mel it's usually down to hygiene (or in the case of shellfish type things it's quality & freshness). i don't eat raw eggs but that's a preference, i do eat lightly boiled but they come from the adjoining farm and they don't (currently!) have salmonella.

do i drink red wine when pregnant? is it good for me? same applies to Guinness which some swear by etc. it's all about assessing risk and then making decisions - informed choice i think its called. what is the risk to your unborn baby of drinking one small glass of red wine a couple of times a week? not the same as guzzling red wine lots of times a week. same applies to everything.

with others it really is just hygiene or trusting your source, no i wouldn't eat soft boiled eggs that i didn't know were they came from but then i wouldn't eat them hardboiled either, if you don't trust the food you don't eat the food not anyway cooked, uncooked, decorated with glitter....

sorry to rant on your blog Mel

Moonwaves said...

I wonder if the sprouts connected to the outbreak in Toronto were fresh grown by those people or bought in a pack? (I'll look it up later if I have time) Reading this post however reminded me strongly of something similar I read last year about e-coli and spinach in the States. Here's a link (which contains more links):

Farida said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Farida said...

Coming from a food safety background, I strongly urge pregnant women not to eat sprouts during their pregnancy. Sprouts have been linked to many many outbreaks in the past 15 years, and the danger is in how they are grown (close to the ground) and the fact that they are typically served raw. A note about eggs - if you're really craving runny eggs while pregnant, you can buy pasteurized eggs and eat without the fear of getting Salmonella. I know there are a ton of food taboos w/ pregnancy, but honestly why risk your baby's health?

Melanie Rimmer said...

Hi Farida. I really value your input because of your background in food safety. What do you mean when you say "the danger is in how they are grown (close to the ground)". Everything is grown in the ground. Lettuces and spinach etc. grow right on the ground, and they're eaten raw. Carrots are grown in the ground and they're eaten raw. In fact, beansprouts are unusual in that they are grown in big vats in factories, unless you sprout them at home in which case they're probably in a jam jar on the windowsill. So I just don't understand where the risk comes from.

Farida said...

Sorry, I mispoke about the contamination coming from the ground. Reading up on the topic, it seems like the problem is with contaminated seeds. It's hard to remove bacteria from the seeds, and the bacteria will multiply when the seeds are grown in warm/humid conditions.

Multiveg said...

I recall something about some sort of not nice bacteria found in pre-packed salad leaves. Some of these could be "kept" up to a month before being sold.

Regarding red wine - I mentioned to my midwife that I tried Guinness but didn't like it. She said that red wine had more iron than Guinness so I consumed a sherry-glass sized amount of red wine with meals when I was pregnant.

Dana said...

Before becoming pregnant, my husband and I began soaking lentils in water for 24 hours and then eating the sproutlings that came from those. It seems that these would be as safe as the rest of the veggies I'm eating in my salads two or three times a week? I'm thinking the benefits of fresh uncooked veggies far outweigh the risks of salmonella poisoning from my own kitchen.

Anonymous said...

Hahah I found this blog by searching 'can i eat bean sprouts in pregnancy'
Haha, as I am eating my noodle take out thats hardcore laden in bean sprouts.
Just making sure I know what popular opinion is, teehee.


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