Tag Archive for: Sprouts Tips

Red Clover Sprouts

Are homegrown sprouts safe?

We’ve greatly enjoyed our own homegrown sprouts for the past several years. There’s just something about their fresh taste and crispy crunch that can be enjoyed any time of year, no matter the weather. 

As with all our seeds, we make sure we know who our growers are and where our seeds come from. This is even more important with seeds used for sprouting as they are eaten directly as a food.

We chose our sprouting seeds supplier because of their commitment to the safest and healthiest seeds possible. They showed us their safety standards and testing protocols and we want to share them with you.

Growing your own sprouts at home is much safer than buying them off the shelf at a supermarket, and we’ll show you why.

-The safest sprouts are those you grow at home in a glass jar from a trusted, reliable source that screens the seed and tests both the irrigation water and sprouts for contamination.

-The next best is fresh sprouts from a local, trusted grower who buys their seed from a similar source as above.

-The least safe sprouts are from the supermarket where they have most likely been grown in a different state and trucked in. These sprouts are usually more than a few days old when they are first put on the shelves.

Sprouts are healthy, nutritious and are rich in vitamins, minerals, proteins, enzymes, bioflavonoids, antioxidants, phytoestrogens, glucosinolates and other phytochemicals. They are an excellent alternative to meat, especially for vegetarians and vegans.

Week Old Sprouts

Fresh Homegrown Sprouts

Hazards of sprouts

There are two main hazards associated with sprouts – E. coli and Salmonella. Both of these terms are used a lot, but what do they really mean? What are they and where do they come from?

From the CDC website

“Escherichia coli (E. coli) bacteria normally live in the intestines of people and animals. Most E. coli are harmless and actually are an important part of a healthy human intestinal tract. However, some E. coli are pathogenic, meaning they can cause illness, either diarrhea or illness outside of the intestinal tract. The types of E. coli that can cause diarrhea can be transmitted through contaminated water or food, or through contact with animals or persons.”

From the USDA website

“Salmonella is an enteric bacterium, which means that it lives in the intestinal tracts of humans and other animals, including birds. Salmonella bacteria are usually transmitted to humans by eating foods contaminated with animal feces or foods that have been handled by infected food service workers who have practiced poor personal hygiene.”

 How to be safe

The best and surest method of reducing the risk of sprout seeds carrying bacteria is making sure the seeds are never contaminated. This starts with an ethical grower using good agricultural practices and organic standards. The next step is conducting rigorous testing, both in-house and independently.

Mung Bean Sprouts

Mung Bean Sprouts

Sprouts seed testing

The testing done on our sprout seeds is different than any other testing protocols for food. There is no acceptable “percentage of contamination”, as is often the case with other foods. If any bacterial contamination is detected, testing is stopped and the entire lot is rejected – sometimes 40,000 pounds or more.

To ensure the sprouting seeds we offer are as safe as possible, our supplier extensively tests both the sprouting water and the seeds to verify if any bacteria is detectable after harvest. Our supplier and an independent lab both do multiple tests to safeguard our health safety.

Current pathogen tests are considered to be 97% accurate in detecting contamination. Duplicate testing at both 48 and 96 hours brings the accuracy and confidence up to 99.91% each time, for a final accuracy of 99. 999919%!

As of early 2017, our supplier is the only company doing these extensive screening and testing protocols. The FDA is studying this protocol and has begun advocating its adoption by sprout companies for testing. 

Sprouts Safety Initial Screening

Initial Sprouts Screening Results 

Screening includes inspecting the bags for any urine or feces contamination, any holes in the bags, insect larva or other contamination. Afterwards, the seed is carefully inspected with both a magnifying glass and microscope.

Each and every bag is screened – this particular lot had 860 bags, each one weighing 50 lbs. for a total of 43,000 lbs.

Sprouts Safety Spent Irrigation Water Contamination Test In-House Lab

In-House Lab Spent Irrigation Water Contamination Test

A small sample of seed is taken from each bag and added to the overall lot sample. The entire sample is sprouted for 48 hours, increasing any potential bacteria level approximately 1,000,000 times over the starting amount, substantially increasing the probability of detection.

Next, the sprout runoff water is sampled and tested by the in-house lab. This is called “spent irrigation water”. A sample of the sprouts is crushed and tested for contamination also. These tests are done in accordance with government food safety and industry accepted protocols.

The lab tests for both Salmonella and E. coli 0157:H7 after 48 hours and again after 96 hours of culturing the irrigation water. 

Both bacteria do most of their growth in the first 2 days or 48 hours. This is when the first test is performed, with the second test at 4 days or 96 hours. The second test catches any late developments that might be missed on the first.

Sprouts Safety Spent Irrigation Water Contamination Test Independent Lab

Independent Lab Spent Irrigation Water Contamination Test

A separate, larger sample of spent irrigation water is sent to an independent lab for more extensive testing. The independent lab performs a more in-depth analysis on a wider range of pathogens than the in-house lab because of their higher level of equipment.

Notice that the independent lab tests for the top seven strains of E. coli, where the in-house lab tests for the most common one. The lab uses a food microbiology genetic detection system.

This is possible because the specific genes or DNA of the different strains of E. coli have been mapped, so they are specifically targeted during this testing. This gives better accuracy, repeatability, and confidence in the testing than any previous methods.

Sprouts Safety Sprouting Test Independent Lab

Independent Lab Sprouting Test

Next, the independent lab tests four pounds of randomly obtained sprouting seed from the shipment. Having an independent, third-party lab analyze the sprouting seeds gives an additional measure of confidence.

Sprouts Safety Storage Confirmation

Storage Confirmation

Finally, the storage facility is inspected and documented. This ensures the cleanliness and food safety of how the seed is stored to avoid insect or rodent infestation or damage.

 Homegrown sprout safety

In a home environment with only one person in contact with the sprouting seeds, cleanliness and food safety is much easier. Here are a few tips for sprouting safely:

  • Wash your hands thoroughly before handling seeds or sprouts, and use clean glass jars and screens that are washed with soap and hot water just before starting the sprouting process.
  • Rinse the sprouts well at least twice a day and tip the jar so excess water can drain, avoiding puddles where bacteria can grow.
  • Rinse the seeds well before starting the initial soaking period.

Now you know the steps taken to ensure the highest quality sprouting seeds are available so you can enjoy the taste and nutrition of sprouts with peace of mind.

Free-range Chickens

Raising backyard chickens is becoming increasingly popular, no matter where you live. There have always been rural chickens, but now there are small and large city chickens, happily living in coops and backyards all across the country. Chickens can do a lot for you, both in the garden and in the kitchen. First off, they give you a real measure of food security and increase your resiliency. The eggs are a great bartering tool, as very few folks that we’ve talked to weren’t interested in some fresh home-raised eggs. Chickens are great for bug control, light soil tilling and fertilization. The chicken manure is very high in Nitrogen and is a great addition to your compost. Home raised eggs are some of the highest nutritional content of any chickens, including free-range. The reason is that most home raised chickens are pampered and given extra nutrition and care. It is very easy to provide a highly nutritious and healthy diet for your backyard chickens from your home garden. We will look at several heirloom vegetables, herbs and flowers that you can easily grow in your garden that will not only provide some tasty treats for your chickens, but give you some great greens as well.

Almost any of the greens and vegetables that you enjoy your chickens will love. You have probably seen them get really excited if you share salad fixings or old veggies from your refrigerator. Think of how they will get when they know that the garden is providing treats for them all of the time! You don’t have to plant a special garden just for the chickens, as they will happily devour any greens that come their way.

The question is often asked of why grow your chicken’s food, why not just buy the 50lb. bag of chicken scratch and call it good? There is nothing wrong with going this route, and realistically you will most likely need to have some commercial feed available as your garden may or may not produce enough greens and grains for your flock. This will vary depending on the size of your garden compared to the size of your flock. The real answer to growing fresh greens for your chickens is the same answer as to why you would want to grow your own garden- taste, nutrition and choice.

Spring Chicken

Spring Chicken

Let’s look at several varieties of vegetables and herbs that are easily grown in a home garden setting that will provide some tasty and highly nutritious greens for both you and your birds. Starting off in the cooler season with some cold-hardy greens will help jump-start the hens energy levels. Kale, Swiss Chard, mustard greens and beet tops are a great start to the season. They all like a cooler soil, sprout quickly and will provide some serious nutrition. Speaking of sprouting, sprouts are an absolute powerhouse of nutrition and are ready to eat in 4-7 days. Alfalfa sprouts are possibly the best known, but there are several different types of sprouts such as radish, mung bean and red clover that work well. Sprouts take up minimal space, use little water and need only the most basic equipment to produce a couple of pounds of fresh food. This is a technique that works especially well in the depths of winter when other greens are scarce and expensive. You can produce plenty of sprouts for yourself and a half dozen chickens from a half gallon jar with a sprouting screen lid on your kitchen sink.

Once the weather starts warming up more options open up for different vegetables and greens. Cabbage, chicory, mustards, spinach and a number of greens do well in the early spring once the soil has started warming up. These include Miner’s Lettuce, French Purslane and Aztec Red Spinach. Once the true spinach starts to bolt in the warmer weather, switch to the spinach substitutes such as red and green malabar spinach, the Aztec Red spinach and New Zealand spinach. All of these love the heat, won’t bolt and produce all through the hotter weather. Traditional winter cover crops such as alfalfa, clover, vetch and annual rye should be considered for later in the year.

If you have the space, pumpkins and squash- both summer and winter- can be excellent feed choices. Winter squash and pumpkins that can be stored until later in the winter give you an additional resource for high quality feed when nothing else is growing. Corn is another great choice, space permitting, as it is the base for the commercial feeds. Other grains that will grow well in a smaller home garden set up is Mennonite Sorghum, Amaranth and Quinoa. Don’t forget Sunflowers, as they can provide both shade and a wind break for your garden along with seeds for your girls.

Many folks don’t think of herbs when it comes to providing food for chickens, but there are some great choices here. Borage is one such, as it has lots of mineral-rich leaves as well as flowers that are edible and make excellent additions to a chicken’s diet. Comfrey is in the Borage family and is another great choice.

To help you get started, we have created a section on our website called “Backyard Chickens Collection”, appropriately enough. We list all of the varieties that are mentioned in this article to save you the time of looking throughout the website to find them. It is really easy to incorporate the chicken feed aspect into your existing gardening plan. Planting one or two extra plants of each variety for each half dozen chickens is usually sufficient, with grains such as Amaranth and sunflowers going almost exclusively to the chickens. As with most things gardening related, a little experimentation will prove the way as you see what volumes of fresh garden produce you particular flock of chickens needs.