Anytime there’s been an E. coli breakout anywhere around the world, you can almost be certain that there are bean sprouts somewhere in the story that are to blame. There is something about the warm moist environment that the growing of bean sprouts requires that makes for a great E. coli playground. The recent deadly outbreak of E. coli in Germany that occurred in June and killed dozens of people and sickened thousands was pretty much put down to the famous bean sprouts that the country is known for. Experts are beginning to point to how the lessons learned from all of this will one day completely change the way organic farming is done.
Why should organic farming be especially at risk in all of this? It can be frightfully difficult to raise sprouts or other vegetables in a way that they be free of contamination. And since organic farming practices require the avoidance of pesticides and other chemicals that could easily kill E. coli bacteria, the whole equation becomes a whole lot more risky. Public health experts recommend that while organic vegetables might be safe sprouts and other salad stuffs may not be.
So how exactly do such dangerous bacteria come into the picture on an ordinary farm? Usually, it is suspected that they come from manure. Since manure is feces, it contains all kinds of dangerous bacteria that you would expect to see in feces. But it doesn’t have to be manure either. In the E. coli outbreak in Germany, there was no manure used. It is believed that the bug just came in from impure water or something. Once it was there, the bacteria had the perfect petri dish to grow in – bean sprouts growing in a hot and humid environment. What makes all of this especially alarming to organic farming interests is that bean sprout food poisoning is not new.
Only 15 years ago, there was a terrible outbreak of E. coli that came from alfalfa beans in the US. In fact, alfalfa happens to be terribly attractive to the E. coli that is deadliest to humans. The outbreak in Germany was almost completely confined to a particular demographic – they were almost all young women. These are the kind of people who are partial to healthy organic food. Perhaps organic food is not safe when it’s for salad ingredients – lettuce, sprouts, cabbage and tomatoes.