It has been more than a year since 62 people from a Victorian farm suffered an unpleasant case of Salmonella. The large number led experts to suspect it was no longer just a simple case; it was already an outbreak.
The culprit? Pre-packaged lettuce.
During that time, there were additional reports claiming the outbreak might have shared a connection with the illnesses in South Australia and Queensland. To prevent further damage, authorities across the country recalled products with ‘best before’ dates.
Pre-packaged salads are popular alternatives to processed foods, which makes them the next go-to meals for health-conscious consumers. The outbreak, however, highlighted the fact that raw agricultural products — just washed and tossed in bags — aren’t always as healthy as you think.
For the Australian Institute of Accreditation, food safety is elemental to businesses. Protect yours by learning more about the possible bacteria in your salad.
Salmonella (and other Germs) on Salad
Numerous animal species host the food borne pathogen Salmonella; this is more common with poultry. Despite animal-only connections, the bacteria can also easily contaminate non-animal food products. In this case, it’s the lettuce in your salad.
Illnesses due to salads are common; the U.S. also experienced an outbreak of different bacteria, listeria monocytogenes. In 2012, the U.K. dealt with 300 cases of illnesses due to Cryptosporidium parvum, all found in ready-to-eat salads.
The Process: How it Works
Leafy vegetables often carry contamination from bugs, either directly from fertilisers, the animals or run-off water.
With lettuces, the later processing includes breaking up the heads and chopping off the leaves. This operation, however, increases produce surface area, which opens new niches for bacterial growth. It minimises the effectiveness of the other steps used to clean the produce (this includes washing with water). Packaging triggers faster contamination; as a result, an isolated food poisoning case may result in an outbreak.
What to Do
Restaurants and other businesses dealing with these products should not depend on the suppliers only. Legal requirements exist, but even the best checks and balances fail. Instead, wash all ingredients thoroughly to reduce the risk of poisoning.
Good food handling procedures are also crucial. Regular washing and drying of hands before preparing the food, separation of raw foods from the cooked and appropriate storage also keep your product safe.
Lettuces need not scare you or your consumers away. Proper preparation is necessary to ensure all pre-packaged salads are safe and delicious at the same time.