The Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) has warned against consuming non-ready-to-eat frozen fruit and vegetables in smoothies and salads as summer approaches.
New research from safefood has found that almost a third of people report eating non-ready-to-eat fruits, vegetables and herbs without cooking them first.
However, an FSAI microbiology study found that this carries a “low-level disease risk” due to the potential presence of the bacterium Listeria monocytogenes.
The study tested almost 1,000 samples of frozen vegetables, fruit and herbs on the Irish market for the presence of listeria monocytogenes, salmonella, listeria spp and E coli.
Listeria monocytogenes was found in 27 of the samples tested, representing three percent, most of which were non-ready-to-eat frozen vegetables (21 samples).
The FSAI and safefood emphasize that while the numbers were low for the presence of listeria monocytogenes, it is a potential health risk for people who may eat these frozen, non-ready-to-eat foods frequently raw.
Dr Gary A Kearney, interim CEO of safefood, said: “We know from social media that there is a growing trend for people to eat raw frozen fruit and vegetables in things like smoothies and salads.
“Although the risk of contracting a listeria infection is low, it is still a risk that you can avoid by reading the manufacturer’s instructions and by cooking these frozen foods before eating them.
“People at higher risk for listeria infection include young children, pregnant women, and people with an underlying medical condition or weakened immunity. If the product says ‘cook before eating,’ we would remind people to Always follow that advice.”
Berries and sweet corn
Symptoms of listeria monocytogenes infection may include mild flu-like symptoms or gastrointestinal symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.
Nearly a third, or 32 percent, of respondents to an Ipsos MRBI survey conducted on behalf of safefood 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 frozen fruits most likely to be eaten raw in a dessert or smoothie.
A smaller number of consumers said they regularly eat non-ready-to-eat raw frozen vegetables, such as sweet corn, carrots, peas, bell peppers and spinach in a salad or as a side dish.
Dr. Pamela Byrne, Executive Director of FSAI, emphasized the importance of correct labeling and that caterers and foodservice companies must ensure that they follow manufacturers’ instructions when preparing food for their customers.
“It is vital 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.
“They also need to make sure there are no serving suggestions on the packaging that might suggest items can be eaten thawed without first cooking them, whether they are frozen vegetables, fruits or herbs.
“Caterers and foodservice businesses should check food labels and cook frozen items, if instructed, to ensure the food they serve to their customers is safe to eat.”