Irish consumers are being warned against consuming certain frozen fruit and vegetables due to health concerns.
A new study from the Food Safety Authority of Ireland has revealed “a potential low level risk of illness for consumers who eat non-ready-to-eat, uncooked frozen vegetables, fruit or herbs”.
The food safety body, along with Safefood Ireland, advises that all non-ready-to-eat frozen vegetables, fruit and herbs are cooked before consumption and according to label instructions.
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If these products are eaten raw by immunocompromised people, pregnant women, the elderly or young children, there is a risk of serious illness, the FSAI said.
It comes after a microbiological study analyzed nearly 1,000 samples of frozen vegetables, fruits and herbs for the presence of Listeria monocytogenes, Salmonella, Listeria spp. and E. coli.
Listeria monocytogenes was found in 27 of the samples tested (3%), the majority of which were non-ready-to-eat frozen vegetables.
Symptoms of Listeria monocytogenes infection can include mild flu-like symptoms or gastrointestinal symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.
The FSAI and Safefood point out that although the figures for the presence of this bacteria are low, it is a potential health risk for people who may frequently consume these non-ready-to-eat frozen foods raw.
It also poses a threat if consumer preparation and handling practices allow Listeria monocytogenes, if present, to grow to levels high enough to cause listeriosis.
The consumer research part of the study surveyed 815 people across the island of Ireland and found that 80% said they regularly ate frozen vegetables, 40% ate frozen fruit and 13% ate frozen herbs.
While most (68%) said they would cook the product before eating it, others (32%) said they regularly eat one or more types of frozen vegetables, fruits or herbs without cooking them.
Strawberries, blueberries, raspberries and mixed berries were the most likely frozen fruits to be eaten raw in a dessert or in a smoothie.
A smaller number of consumers said they would regularly consume non-ready-to-eat uncooked frozen vegetables such as sweetcorn, carrots, peas, peppers and spinach in a salad or as a garnish.
Dr Pamela Byrne, Chief Executive of the FSAI, stressed the importance of correct labeling and that caterers and catering businesses must ensure they follow manufacturers’ instructions when preparing food for their clients.
“It is essential that food manufacturers follow best practice guidelines and ensure that frozen products that are not ready to eat are clearly labeled as such, with clear cooking instructions,” he said. she declared.
“They must also ensure that there are no presentation suggestions presented on the packaging which could suggest that the products can be eaten thawed without prior cooking – whether vegetables, fruits or frozen herbs.
“Caterers and food service companies should check food labels and cook frozen products, if asked, to ensure that the food they serve to their customers is safe to eat.”
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