Do sandwiches and other food purchased via the Intertubes pose a unique food safety risk?
Researchers in Taiwan say, yes, in the current issue of Foodborne Pathogens and Disease.
Food sold over the Internet is an emerging business that also presents a concern with regard to food safety. A nationwide foodborne disease outbreak associated with sandwiches purchased from an online shop in July 2010 is reported. Consumers were telephone interviewed with a structured questionnaire and specimens were collected for etiological examination. A total of 886 consumers were successfully contacted and completed the questionnaires; 36.6% had become ill, with a median incubation period of 18 h (range, 6–66 h). The major symptoms included diarrhea (89.2%), abdominal pain (69.8%), fever (47.5%), headache (32.7%), and vomiting (17.3%). Microbiological laboratories isolated Salmonella enterica serovar Enteritidis, Salmonella Virchow, Staphylococcus aureus, Bacillus cereus, and enterotoxigenic Escherichia coli from the contaminated sandwiches, Salmonella Enteritidis and Salmonella Virchow from the patients, and Salmonella Enteritidis and Staphylococcus aureus from food handlers. Pulsed-field gel electrophoresis genotyping suggested a common origin of Salmonella bacteria recovered from the patients, food, and a food handler. Among the pathogens detected, the symptoms and incubation period indicated that Salmonella, likely of egg origin, was the probable causative agent of the outbreak. This outbreak illustrates the importance of meticulous hygiene practices during food preparation and temperature control during food shipment and the food safety challenges posed by online food–shopping services.