In this study, the factors that affect Salmonella growth during sprouting of naturally contaminated alfalfa seeds associated with two previous outbreaks of salmonellosis were examined. A minidrum sprouter equipped with automatic irrigation and rotation systems was built to allow sprouting to be conducted under conditions similar to those used commercially. The growth of Salmonella during sprouting in the minidrum was compared with that observed in sprouts grown in glass jars under conditions commonly used at home. The level of Salmonella increased by as much as 4 log units after 48 h of sprouting in jars but remained constant during the entire sprouting period in the minidrum. The effect of temperature and irrigation frequency on Salmonella growth was examined. Increasing the sprouting temperature from 20 to 30°C increased the Salmonella counts by as much as 2 log units on sprouts grown both in the minidrum and in the glass jars. Decreasing the irrigation frequency from every 20 min to every 2 h during sprouting in the minidrum or from every 4 h to every 24 h during sprouting in the glass jars resulted in an approximately 2-log increase in Salmonella counts. The levels of total aerobic mesophilic bacteria, coliforms, and Salmonella in spent irrigation water closely reflected those found in sprouts, confirming that monitoring of spent irrigation water is a good way to monitor pathogen levels during sprouting.

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