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Irish survey finds rare contamination of spreads, dips

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An analysis of more than 1,000 ready-to-eat (RTE) spreads and dips in Ireland has found the majority free from contamination.

The Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) survey investigated the prevalence of Listeria monocytogenes, Salmonella, Campylobacter, Enterobacteriaceae, and E. coli, which is an indicator of fecal contamination, in refrigerated RTE spreads and dips such as hummus, guacamole and meat and fish pâtés.

A total of 1,063 samples of vegetable, meat and fish-based spreads and dips were collected during four months in 2018 by Environmental Health Officers (EHOs) at the Health Service Executive (HSE). Samples were taken from distributors and transporters, manufacturers and packers, primary producers, retailers and the services sector in the Republic of Ireland.

Listeria monocytogenes was detected in four samples and Salmonella was found in one. Five samples had unsatisfactory levels of E. coli and 10 had high amounts of Enterobacteriaceae.

Listeria growth and consumer knowledge
RTE spreads and dips are popular with consumers, are eaten without further cooking and can support the growth of Listeria monocytogenes. This is of concern given the long shelf life on some products plus the poor knowledge among some consumers on their correct storage and use, according to the report.

A 2015 safefood study found that 10 percent of consumers’ refrigerators contained high-risk RTE foods such as cooked meats, salads, fish and dairy products that were past their use-by dates.

In the past two years, FSAI has issued four alerts on Listeria monocytogenes in hummus, possible presence of Salmonella in guacamole dip, Listeria monocytogenes in trout pâté, and a lack of procedures to prevent the growth and toxin production of Clostridium botulinum in chicken and pheasant liver pâtés.

Plant-based dips such as fresh salsa and guacamole contain raw produce. Microbiological quality relies on the combination of several hurdles including pH, presence of organic acids, use of preservatives and storage temperature. Ingredient quality also impacts final product safety.

Positive survey findings
Listeria monocytogenes was detected in four products including green pesto, basil pesto, hummus and cumin hummus. For three of them, recall alerts were issued by the FSAI. For the other, the result came back after the use-by date had expired and it was no longer on the market.

Salmonella Freetown was detected in one sample of green pesto, which resulted in a recall of three products as they shared a common potentially contaminated ingredient. None of the 118 samples tested for Campylobacter were unsatisfactory.

Samples that were unsatisfactory for E. coli included vegetable dips, hummus, pesto dip and cumin hummus. Presence of E. coli in RTE spreads and dips indicates fecal pathogens may also be present or that poor hygienic practices occurred during or after processing.

Chicken liver pâté, meat spread, smoked mackerel pâté, salmon sensation, cream dip and crab mix were unsatisfactory for Enterobacteriaceae. Its presence in cooked spreads and dips indicates either inadequate cooking, poor hygienic practices or post-processing contamination.

Findings suggest that practices along the food chain from primary production of raw ingredients to handling practices by producers are generally good for these products.

“Nevertheless, the detection of pathogens in this survey alongside the number of reported outbreaks and RASFF notifications for pathogens in these types of products, emphasizes the need for control of contamination during processing and for producers to use high quality raw ingredients in order to mitigate the risks associated with foodborne illness from refrigerated RTE spreads and dips,” according to the study.

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