Internet cheese? Be careful Europeans

The suitability for consumers of a variety of raw milk cheeses purchased over the Internet was investigated in terms of packaging, labelling, physicochemical parameters and microbiological safety. 108 purchases from seven European countries were examined.

artisanal.cheeseThe prevalences of Salmonella spp., Listeria monocytogenes, Escherichia coli and coagulase positive staphylococci (SA) were determined. All 108 samples were described on websites as raw milk cheeses and thereby qualified for this study. However, after delivery it was noted that 4.6% (5/108) of cheeses were labelled to be manufactured from heat-treated or pasteurized milk. Delivery duration ranged from 24 h to six days. Immediately upon receipt cheese temperatures were observed to range between 5 and 23 °C, whereas in 61.5% of all cases the temperature was higher than 15 °C. Cheese labelling was examined in respect of EC Guideline 2000/13 and Regulation No. 853/2004. Only 17.6% (19/108) of cheeses were properly labelled and fulfilled all European guideline requirements.

In 50.9%, 38.8%, 46.3% and 39.8% of all cases (i) specific storage requirements, (ii) name and address of the manufacturer/packer or seller, (iii) net weight and (iv) shelf life (use by date), were missing. Even the labelling information “made from raw milk” was not apparent on 36% of all cheese items delivered. The major foodborne pathogen L. monocytogenes was detected in 1.9% of all samples, one of which had counts of 9.5 × 103 CFU/g. None of the 108 investigated cheeses showed a pH ≤ 5.0 and aw value ≤0.94 which are the limiting values for growth of L. monocytogenes. For two samples (0.9%) and 11 samples (10.2%) the pH and the aw value was ≤4.4 or ≤0.92, respectively at least at one of three stipulated time points (receipt, mid-shelf-life and at expiry). Salmonella spp. could not be detected in any of the samples. E. coli and SA could be detected in a total of 29.6% (≥10 CFU/g; 32/108) and 8.3% (≥100 CFU/g; 9/108) of samples, respectively, indicating poor conditions of hygiene.

Results reveal that labelling and hygiene concerns about the safety of Internet purchased cheeses in Europe are justified.

How safe is European Internet cheese? A purchase and microbiological investigation

Food Control, Volume 54, August 2015, Pages 225–230

Dagmar Schoder , Anja Strauß, Kati Szakmary-Brändle, Martin Wagner