The reliability of testing spent irrigation water to assess the microbiological status of sprouting mung bean beds has been investigated. In commercial trials, the distribution of opportunistic contaminants within 32 bean sprout beds (25 kg of mung beans per bin) was assessed 48 h after germination. The prevalence of generic Escherichia coli, thermotolerant coliforms, and Aeromonas in sprouts (n = 288) was 5, 11, and 39%, respectively, and 57, 70, and 79% in the corresponding spent irrigation water samples (n = 96). Contamination was heterogeneously distributed within the seedbed. In laboratory trials, beans inoculated with a five-strain cocktail of either Salmonella or E. coli O157:H7 (103 to 104 CFU/g) were introduced (1 g/500 g of noninoculated seeds) at defined locations (top, middle, or base), and the beans were then sprouted for 48 h. When seeds inoculated with pathogens were introduced at the base or top of the seedbed, the pathogens were typically restricted to these sites and resulted in 44% of the spent irrigation water samples returning false-negative results. Introducing inoculated beans into the middle or at the presoak stage enhanced the distribution of both pathogens within the subsequent sprout bed and resulted in comparable levels recovered in spent irrigation water. The study demonstrated that even though screening a single sample of spent irrigation water is more reliable than testing sprouts directly, it does not provide an accurate assessment of the microbiological status of sprouting mung bean beds. Such limitations may be addressed by ensuring that bean batches are mixed prior to use and by taking spent irrigation water samples from multiple sites at the latter stages of the sprouting process.

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