Overview of Food Safety for Sprouts and Microgreens

Sprouts and microgreens are agricultural crops that are sprouted, grown and harvested at the immature stage. They are sometimes grown in soil, but more commonly are germinated in a soilless medium including drums, trays, bins or racks.

Food Safety

Microbiological pathogens found on sprouted seeds (such as mung been or alfalfa sprouts) and microgreens (such as broccoli, pea shoots, sunflower, wheatgrass or arugula) have caused numerous product recalls and outbreaks in Canada. Most often, the contamination originated from pathogens such as Salmonella or E. coli on the seeds.

To prevent bacterial contamination of sprouted seeds and microgreens, producers and vendors of these products should use good agricultural practices and antimicrobial treatments that include:

  • A certificate from the seed supplier confirming analysis for microbial pathogens. This certificate should accompany each lot of sourced seeds.
  • Handling and storing seeds in a way that prevents damage and contamination.
  • Rinsing and agitating seeds in potable water both prior to and after applying an antimicrobial seed treatment.
  • Applying an antimicrobial treatment to seeds that can achieve a 3-log reduction of pathogens of concern.
  • Avoiding re-use of any water or antimicrobial treatments on seeds.
  • Rinsing seeds with potable water after the antimicrobial treatment.
  • Soaking seeds in potable water to improve germination.
  • Pasteurizing the soil or growing medium to remove bacteria, if applicable.
  • Using sanitized containers for all steps in the process.
  • Keeping the environment and equipment clean.
  • Cooling germinated sprouts with cold, potable water or cooling microgreens to further reduce microbial growth.
  • Sampling spent irrigation water and sending samples to an accredited lab to test for indicator microorganisms (such as coliforms and E. coli), and pathogens that may have contacted the sprouted seeds or microgreens.

Regulatory Requirements

In Ontario, sprout and microgreen producers and retailers must adhere to the requirements under Ontario Regulation 119/11 of the Food Safety and Quality Act, 2001. This regulation includes packaging, labeling and food safety standards as well as requirements for retail display signs and advertisements. It applies to anyone who packs, labels, transports, sells or advertises for sale any produce, including sprouts or microgreens, and who is not federally licensed by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency for those activities.

Clients should refer directly to the regulation and to the web page entitled "Regulatory Requirements for Produce in Ontario" for more information about these requirements.

Food businesses may need to comply with various requirements under Ontario Regulation 493/17 of the Health Protection and Promotion Act. Operators of a food premises, including producers, vendors and retailers, should contact their local health unit for more information about the requirements under this regulation. A list of Ontario health units is available on the Ministry of Health website.

Producers should also consult the Canadian Food Inspection Agency for any federal requirements that may apply to them.

Additional Resources

The ministry has developed educational materials for the food industry, including a Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) Guidebook.

OMAFRA's website contains information about Starting a Food Selling Business and other food and food safety resources. Businesses may contact OMAFRA's Agricultural Information Contact Centre for more information.

For more information:
Toll Free: 1-877-424-1300
E-mail: ag.info.omafra@ontario.ca