While they are generally safe, because microgreens need a lot of water and humidity, they are susceptible to mold, fungi, and mildew, which can make us sick when ingested.
Microgreens are young vegetable plants. Almost any vegetable can be grown into a microgreen and consumed, although some are more desirable by way of taste and nutrition. So, how do we prepare these greens to avoid this problem?
How do microgreens make us sick?
Greens are susceptible to mold, fungi, and mildew. Ingesting these can make us very sick. The reason microgreens are more likely to make us sick than adult, mature vegetables is because they require a lot of water and humidity.
Sprouts are actually more dangerous in this sense – the seeds are germinated in water, which also encourages mold, mildew, and fungi. In most cases, food poisoning from eating contaminated greens will not need medical intervention.
What types of illnesses can I get from eating contaminated microgreens?
There are two major bacteria that form on microgreens: listeriosis and salmonellosis. Microgreens are also affected by mold and mildew, of course, which will make us sick as well.
Listeriosis generally presents with a fever, GI troubles (diarrhea, stomach cramps, vomiting), and flu-like symptoms. This particular bacterium is especially dangerous for women who are pregnant, newborns, anyone with a poor immune system, and the elderly.
Salmonellosis also presents with the same set of symptoms – Gi trouble, (diarrhea, vomiting, cramps) and a fever. This illness is generally rectified by a healthy body within a few days, but those who are immunocompromised or very young or very old may need medical intervention.
What types of microgreens are there, and are some more dangerous than others?
There are 6 families of microgreens:
- The Brassicaceae family – cauliflower, cabbage, radish, broccoli, arugula, and watercress
- The Asteraceae family – lettuce, chicory, radicchio, and endive
- The Amaranthaceous family – amaranth, beet, quinoa, Swiss chard, and spinach
- The Cucurbitaceae family – melon, squash, and cucumber
- The Amaryllidaceae family – garlic, leek and onion
- The Nightshade family – eggplant, bell pepper, tomato, and potato
All of these families include different types of vegetables, and all are packed with nutrients, like potassium, copper, zinc, and iron. There is a particular risk with the Nightshade vegetables of solanine poison, if eaten in large enough quantities.
These greens sound dangerous! Should I eat them at all?
Of course, choosing what to eat is a personal choice. You should consider whether or not you like the taste, and whether you can actually add them to your diet, or will they wilt in the fridge after a week? The taste can be surprising and off-putting to some – they range from sour to bitter to spicy.
There are a ton of health benefits from these little greens. If they are properly cared for, and stored, they can certainly be a part of a healthy, balanced diet. Since they are so small, and pack so many nutrients, eating a handful of microgreens on top of a salad can give a huge boost in vitamins and minerals!
How are microgreens different from sprouts? Can sprouts also make me sick?
Sprouts are actually much more dangerous than microgreens. Microgreens are germinated in soil and sprouts in water. This difference in germination technique makes sprouts much more likely to mold. In fact, in 2010 Walmart stopped selling sprouts, and Kroger followed suit in 2012.
Since the seeds of microgreens are not consumed, that also makes them a safer raw food than sprouts. You’ve cut your risk of illness from greens in half by not eating the seed.
Has there ever been an outbreak of food borne illness directly caused by microgreens?
Luckily, no. There have been plenty of outbreaks in illnesses due to sprouts, and other mature greens, but never from microgreens. However, there has been a recall of listeria contaminated broccoli microgreens, in 2018, after the greens were distributed to a number of Whole Foods stores in Washington.
How should I prepare my microgreens to prevent food poisoning?
Always wash your microgreens in room temperature water and thoroughly dry them. You can dry them on paper towels, or in a salad spinner – although do be careful using a salad spinner – microgreens are small and can sometimes slip through the holes in the internal chamber.
After drying your greens thoroughly and completely, store them in a ventilated container.
What should I look for when buying microgreens?
When shopping for greens, be sure to select ones that are vibrant in color and not limp. These will be the freshest. When they are brought home, make sure to wash and dry them right away.
How can I safely grow my own microgreens?
When buying seeds, be sure to buy from a reputable company and buy organic seeds. You should use sterile containers and single use trays to minimize the risks of mold or fungi growing on your equipment or the greens themselves. Sterilize your seeds with food grade hydrogen peroxide before planting.
Once the plants are growing, look out for mold growing on the soil near the bottom of the stems. Also check your trays regularly, to make sure they are draining well, to avoid root rot.
For home growers, the varieties to avoid are Thai basil, radish, Swiss chard, and radish (and of course, the nightshade vegetables – eggplant, bell pepper, potato, and tomato). These are all susceptible to disease.
Are home grown greens safer than store bought?
Short answer, not always. The benefits to growing at home is that you have control over every aspect of growing, harvesting, and cleaning the greens. However, most home growers do not have the sanitization equipment and quality check protocols that established farms do.
If you’re growing at home, use organic seeds, and be sure to be vigilant at every step, frequently checking for mold and fungus. If you’re buying from the store, be sure to select the freshest greens available, and wash them as soon as possible.