Ready-to-eat meals may be popular but have risks

Eugene Boisvert of Au News writes that more than 40 per cent of ready-to-eat meals tested by South Australian health types contained an unsatisfactory level of bacteria, according to survey results published in the Eastern Health Authority’s annual report this month.

The SA Health survey said one of the tested meals contained 310 times the safe level of Bacillus cereus, and another had almost 13 times the safe level of E. coli, which comes from feces.

Out of 98 meals bought at local supermarkets and shops with a shelf life of 10 or more days, 42 had an unsatisfactory microorganism count.

Eastern Health Authority chief executive Michael Livori said more small businesses were trying to capitalise on the growing popularity of ready-to-eat meals without understanding the health risks involved.

“Most manufacturers who are normally in this business will (understand the risks) but there’s an increase in small businesses or retailers getting into this realm but not without risk,” Mr Livori said.

The SA Health survey and subsequent report, published in June, was sparked by Eastern Health Authority concerns about the standard of manufacturing processes of ready-to-eat meals.

The SA Health report recommended measures to prevent bacteria growing in ready-to-eat meals, including that they be heated to at least 90C for 10 minutes when being cooked.

Meanwhile, the Eastern Health Authority issued 10 businesses with prohibition orders in 2016/17, banning them from preparing, selling or transporting food until they cleaned up their act, compared with three in the previous two financial years.

RTE salad storage temps should be reduced in Sweden

Prepacked ready-to-eat mixed ingredient salads (RTE salads) are readily available whole meals that include a variety of ingredients such as raw vegetables, cooked meat, and pasta.

rte.salad.swedenAs part of a trend toward healthy convenience foods, RTE salads have become an increasingly popular product among consumers. However, data on the incidence of foodborne pathogens in RTE salads are scarce.

In this study, the microbiological safety of 141 RTE salads containing chicken, ham, or smoked salmon was investigated. Salad samples were collected at retail and analyzed using standard methods for Listeria monocytogenes, Shiga toxin–producing Escherichia coli (STEC), pathogenic Yersinia enterocolitica, Salmonella, and Campylobacter spp.L. monocytogenes was isolated from two (1.4%) of the RTE salad samples.

Seven (5.0%) of the samples were positive for the ail gene (present in all human pathogenic Y. enterocolitica isolates) and three (2.1%) of the samples were positive for the Shiga toxin genes stx 1 and/or stx 2. However, no strains of pathogenic Y.enterocolitica or STEC were isolated.

Thus, pathogens were found or suspected in almost 1 of 10 RTE salads investigated, and pathogenic bacteria probably are present in various RTE salads from retail premises in Sweden.

Because RTE salads are intended to be consumed without heat treatment, control of the ingredients and production hygiene is essential to maintain consumer safety. The recommended maximum storage temperature for RTE salads varies among countries but can be up to 8°C (e.g., in Sweden). Even during a short shelf life (3 to 5 days), storage at 8°C can enable growth of psychrotrophs such as L. monocytogenes and Y. enterocolitica. The maximum storage temperature should therefore be reduced.

Foodborne bacterial pathogens in retail prepacked ready-to-eat mixed ingredient salads

Journal of Food Protection®, Number 6, June 2016, pp. 896-1055, pp. 978-985(8)

Söderqvist, Karin; Thisted Lambertz, Susanne; Vågsholm, Ivar; Boqvist, Sofia

http://www.ingentaconnect.com/contentone/iafp/jfp/2016/00000079/00000006/art00011

Sounds a bit militaristic: Seek and destroy Listeria process controls in the ready-to-eat meat and poultry industry

The majority of human listeriosis cases appear to be caused by consumption of ready-to-eat (RTE) foods contaminated at the time of consumption with high levels of Listeria monocytogenes.

listeria4Although strategies to prevent growth of L. monocytogenes in RTE products are critical for reducing the incidence of human listeriosis, control of postprocessing environmental contamination of RTE meat and poultry products is an essential component of a comprehensive L. monocytogenes intervention and control program.

Complete elimination of postprocessing L. monocytogenes contamination is challenging because this pathogen is common in various environments outside processing plants and can persist in food processing environments for years. Persistent L. monocytogenes strains in processing plants have been identified as the most common postprocessing contaminants of RTE foods and the cause of multiple listeriosis outbreaks.

Identification and elimination of L. monocytogenes strains persisting in processing plants is thus critical for (i) compliance with zero-tolerance regulations for L. monocytogenes in U.S. RTE meat and poultry products and (ii) reduction of the incidence of human listeriosis.

The seek-and-destroy process is a systematic approach to finding sites of persistent strains (niches) in food processing plants, with the goal of either eradicating or mitigating effects of these strains. This process has been used effectively to address persistent L. monocytogenes contamination in food processing plants, as supported by peer-reviewed evidence detailed here. Thus, a regulatory environment that encourages aggressive environmental Listeria testing is required to facilitate continued use of this science-based strategy for controlling L. monocytogenes in RTE foods.

Journal of Food Protection®, Number 2, February 2015, pp. 240-476, pp. 436-445(10)

Malley, Thomas J. V.; Butts, John; Wiedmann, Martin

http://www.ingentaconnect.com/content/iafp/jfp/2015/00000078/00000002/art00028

Is it in the sauce? Single pork product responsible for 23 per cent of USDA salmonella-positives

 Pork barbecue with vinegar and pepper-based sauce is the source of 23 per cent of salmonella-positive samples the U.S. Department of Agriculture reviewed from 2005 to 2010. The contamination has not caused any known illnesses.

Exactly what part of the dish is contaminating it with salmonella isn’t clear. FSIS notes that it “may have come from the addition of contaminated ingredients (such as the pepper) to the sauce, or from cross-contamination of the product or sauce in the post lethality processing environment.”

During processing of these products, the pork was cooked first, and the barbecue sauce was added after the cooking step. The lack of a lethality treatment for the sauce or its ingredients could result in contamination of the final product.

Meatingplace.com reports inspectors were told to plan an awareness meeting on the subject, and to ensure that the plants they inspect have a HACCP plan that enables them to determine whether the establishment had a way of evaluating the safety of the ingredients added after the lethality step.