Salmonella Bacteria Found In Ready-To-Eat Herbs

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A recent food study led by the Health Protection Agency and the Local Authorities Co-ordinators of Regulatory Services (LACORS) has revealed the presence of salmonella bacteria in a small number of ready-to-eat fresh herb samples.

Between May and October 2007, 3760 ready-to-eat fresh herbs of different varieties were tested, a small proportion (0.5%) of which were found to be unsafe due to the presence of salmonella. Initial findings in May 2007 identified a type of salmonella called Salmonella Senftenberg in fresh basil samples. The 18 herb samples contaminated with salmonella were all pre-cut herbs.

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Jim McLauchlin, Director of the Health Protection Agency's Food, Water & Environmental Microbiology Services, said: "Our survey found six herb types to be contaminated with ten different types of salmonella. The basil samples that were found to be contaminated with S. Senftenberg were all grown in Israel. Investigations undertaken at the time of these samples testing positive (May 07) identified thirty-two human cases of S. Senftenberg in individuals throughout England and Wales, and it is likely that these cases were linked to consumption of fresh basil."

"The presence of salmonella in ready-to-eat foods such as fresh herbs is unacceptable, and in each case the retailer and the Food Standards Agency were immediately informed and action was taken to prevent the risk of people becoming ill.

"There are two important measures that can be taken to protect the public from becoming ill as a result of consuming herbs. The first is in the growing process where careful steps should be taken to control potential points of contamination. The second is that consumers can also wash their herbs, particuarly if they are to consume them without further cooking, so as to minimise the risk that their herbs aren't contaminated with any bacteria."

Salmonella Senftenberg is a relatively uncommon form of salmonella in England and Wales and causes a similar illness to other forms of salmonella infection, so symptoms can include diarrhoea, vomiting, abdominal pain and fever.

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