It is not the microgreens themselves, but harmful bacteria living on them that can cause diarrhea. These bacteria are more likely to be present when improper growth and handling occur. Precautions can reduce or eliminate this risk.
Read on to learn everything you need to know about the relationship between microgreens and diarrhea so you can be a safe and savvy consumer.
Does it Matter Where Microgreens are Grown?
Yes! Farms often follow guidelines to ensure proper sanitation and treatment of their tools, equipment, and the microgreens themselves.
However, you can never be certain of any farm’s practices, which is why it is a good idea to shop for products that are certified to be organic and safely produced. Normally the packaging of a microgreen will have a sticker designating any certifications it has.
If you grow microgreens yourself, you must be aware of the proper handling methods to prevent contamination. If contaminated, you might end up with diarrhea-causing bacteria on your microgreens!
Be sure to follow guidance on growing your own microgreens carefully and avoid eating any of them if you suspect the process has not been executed properly. It is not worth the risk of getting sick!
Can I Eat Raw Microgreens?
Yes, as long as you exercise caution. Be sure to rinse your microgreens prior to eating them raw (or even prior to cooking them) and do not consume them past their expiration date (if store bought, the expiration date is normally printed somewhere on the packaging) or if they do not smell or look like they should.
Remember, though, that the bacteria on your microgreens are not visible to the naked eye, so you can have bad microgreens even if they look, smell, and taste normal. This is why it is important to follow precautions every time you purchase, prepare, and consume microgreens.
Can Anyone Eat Microgreens Raw?
While anyone can eat raw microgreens, it is best if avoided by those who are pregnant, elderly, or very young. This is because these groups of people have more vulnerable immune systems, and therefore are more likely to become ill from any present bacteria.
For these vulnerable groups, cooking the microgreens prior to eating reduces the risk of diarrhea (and other harms) by killing pathogens present on microgreen surfaces.
Are Some Microgreens More Likely to Harbor Bacteria?
Yes. Radish and watercrest, for example, are two particular types of microgreens that are more vulnerable to contamination by microorganisms than others.
This means that unfortunately, some microgreens are naturally going to have a higher risk of leading to diarrhea than others. Note, however, that microgreens are considered safe to eat and the increased risk is only in comparison to other microgreens and not an increased general risk.
In other words, just because radish is more vulnerable to microorganisms does not equal that radish should not be eaten!
What Kinds of Pathogens on Microgreens Can Cause Diarrhea?
Below is a list of common pathogens found on microgreens. It is not comprehensive, however, and is only a shortened list for the primary culprits found to cause illness.
- Listeria: Can cause diarrhea and other flu-like symptoms. Listeria is particularly dangerous if you belong to a vulnerable group with a weakened immune system
- Salmonella: Usually causes problems within a few days of consumption. Most people recover quickly, although rarely cases can be more severe (especially when immunocompromised)
- Mold: Mold can sometimes lead to the formation of mycotoxins, which can cause diarrhea.
- E-Coli: There are many strains of E-Coli, and the majority are not going to lead to severe illness. However, some bouts of E-Coli can cause diarrhea and other symptoms
Are Some Microgreens More Likely to Cause Diarrhea?
Yes! Alfalfa naturally contains substances that can lead to diarrhea when consumed in large quantities.
However, this does not mean you should swear off alfalfa, because it normally causes no symptoms of diarrhea when eaten in small quantities.
Also, remember that most episodes of diarrhea after eating microgreens are caused by microorganisms and not the microgreens themselves.
Has There Ever Been an Outbreak from Eating Microgreens?
Yes, there has. According to Food Safety Network, alfalfa and onion, along with alfalfa and radish, had to be recalled in Canada due to a Salmonella outbreak.
Salmonella is a bacterium that can cause diarrhea (along with other symptoms, potentially severe), usually within 72 hours of eating contaminated food.
Are Other Vegetables Safer?
No. According to Healthline, microgreens are actually less susceptible to harmful bacteria than sprouts, their closest analog in the vegetable world.
Your overall risk of contracting diarrhea (or other illnesses) from consuming microgreens is lower than if you were to eat sprouts. That is bcause sprouts primarily consist of the plant root which is much more susceptible to contamination from soil and water than the plants stem or leaves.
Is it A Really That Big of a Deal if Microgreens Give Me Diarrhea?
Yes! Diarrhea can rapidly lead to dehydration, and the human body absolutely has to be hydrated in order to function and survive!
Do not underestimate the importance of ensuring food, surfaces, and your hands/utensils are clean prior to eating anything, including microgreens. Not only is diarrhea potentially dangerous, rapidly excreting your microgreens means you will not be able to fully benefit from the nutrients as they exit the body before being properly absorbed through digestion.
How Can I Avoid Diarrhea from Microgreens?
There are several things you can do to prevent diarrhea after eating microgreens:
- Always wash your hands before touching microgreens
- Always rinse your microgreens before eating
- Keep your microgreens in the refrigerator to maintain freshness
- Look for a label on your microgreen packaging that says certified organic because these microgreens are typically subject to high quality growth and production processes
- When growing your own microgreens, be sure to do so in a clean, temperature-controlled space with clean equipment and tools
- Do not consume raw microgreens if you are pregnant or elderly, and do not feed raw microgreens to young children. Instead, always cook prior to serving