Wednesday, January 26, 2011
LISTERIA IN SALADS - A GLOBAL TREAT
Listeria monocytogenes bacteria commonly crop up in ready-to-eat (RTE) salads as well as other RTE foods. This bacterium can be present in the soil, in improperly treated organic fertilizer and in irrigation water. Animals who carry it may show no symptoms of illness.
The bacteria could also enter from packaging or plant equipment - and, in my opinion, one of the biggest risk factors - is that it is commonly carried by food industry workers. How often this happens, is difficult to say as estimates vary - let's say, somewhere between 5-20% of food workers may be carriers (that is of course, a broad range, but I bet it varies in different parts of the US.
And don't assume that this is just a US problem. It is not. For the readers of this blog in Canada, Australia, New Zealand (and my stats tell me there are quite a few of you in those countries) you have also had quite a few similar outbreaks and recalls - Listeria monocytogenes in RTE salads (as well as other foods). In fact, several occurred in 2010 in all these countries. At least one was reported in New Zealand about a week ago (Pams Fresh Express, and Living Foods Brands were involved).
And unfortunately, you can't assume organic produce is any safer. For one thing, it is handled just as much. For another, it is just as subject to environmental, animal and plant contamination. Take today's recall by State Garden, Inc. (see previous blog). One of the salad products on its recall list is Olivia's Organics. In fact, some 20 of the 90 (currently) recalled salad products bear this label. This organic line was launched with all kinds of great publicity by State Garden in March, 2006. I am quoting from the company's website at that time: "The mission of OLIVIA’S ORGANICS™ is three-fold: to encourage healthy eating by offering all-natural, organic products; to aide the local community though the work of its Foundation; and to protect the environment by endorsing earth-friendly, organic farming techniques." This sounds like a wonderful initiative - for a profit oriented company. But, unfortunately, bacteria don't discriminate - they are an equal-opportunity threat.
Listeria monocytogenes is not only a global food safety risk, but it can turn up just as much in organic as well as in conventional produce and other kinds of foods. Pregnant women - take special care (see my next blog).