Growing Our Own

The International Sprout Growers Association may well put a hit out on me for saying this, but why would anyone want to buy "fresh" sprouts that have been entombed in plastic and trucked thousands of miles from who-knows-where before hitting store shelves? I wouldn't, and, in fact, I don't. But now that a thick layer of frost has covered my turnips, lettuce, and sugar snap peas, I have to make do with storage onions, potatoes, and what fresh greens I can coax out of the great indoors -- and that means sprouts.

Because they require little space and effort to grow, and they pack a nutritional wallop, alfalfa, radish, and broccoli sprouts top my list. To grow my own, I get untreated, organic seed mix in bulk from the local health food store. Turns out, a little bit of seed goes a very long way. Just one or two tablespoons of the stuff will make enough sprouts to last all week. So far, I've had the most success with the jar method. I simply add the seeds to a clean, quart jar, add enough water to cover them, and top the jar with cheesecloth or a bit of nylon hose. Once the seeds have soaked for a few hours, I pour off the water and keep the seeds moist by rinsing them a couple of times daily. They're ready to eat in a few days -- and they're fresher than what you might find at the store. Talk about eating closer to home!

Of course, history shows there is the risk of salmonella poisoning. According to Steve "Sproutman" Meyerowitz, there have been 1,639 cases of food borne illness associated with commercial sprout growers over the last 40 or so years, but "there has never been a case of salmonella from home-grown sprouts." In the interest of full disclosure, the guy does make his living selling gadgets and books and sprouting-grade seeds, but, for what it's worth, I'm still kicking. (At least until the International Sprout Growers get their hands on me, that is. . . ) 


The first sprout related outbreak of Bacillus cereus was in home sprouting kits Texas in 1973. There has also been seed recalled from health food stores and even "millennium bug" survival kits.

The problem is that contamination in sprouts comes from the seed. It does not matter if a commercial sprout grower produces the sprouts or you do it at home. If the seed is contaminated there is little you can do. You can't see the pathogens, so you don't know the seed is contaminated. Chlorine gives a 2 to 2.5 log reduction in, but the remaining pathogens grow right back as thought the seed had never been sanitized.

Commercial sprout growers are now using seed supplied by a company in Tennessee that has been thoroughly sampled and tested for pathogens. Unfortunately, it is not available for home sprout growers unless the buy it from a health food store that purchased it from that company. Their website is and their seed screening procedures are located at

Happy sprouting.