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Salmonella, E. Coli Bacteria Found In Ready-To-Eat Seeds

Ruzanna Harutyunyan's picture

A recent study carried out by the Health Protection Agency and LACORS (Local Authorities Co-ordinators of Regulatory Services) has revealed the presence of Salmonella and E. coli bacteria in a small number of ready-to-eat dried seed samples.

Seeds, such as sesame, sunflower, pumpkin and poppy, are frequently eaten as snack foods or incorporated into meals without further cooking. The study was therefore undertaken to explore the microbiological safety of these products as they would be eaten by consumers.

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Between October 2007 and March 2008, 3735 samples of ready-to-eat seeds of different varieties were collected from retail premises including supermarkets, health food shops, convenience shops and market stalls. Overall, 98% were of a satisfactory or acceptable quality in microbiological terms, but 0.6% of samples were found to be unsafe due to the presence of Salmonella, which renders food unfit for human consumption. A further 1.5% were found to contain unsatisfactory levels of E. coli, which is an indicator of poor hygiene.

Dr Jim McLauchlin, Director of the Health Protection Agency's Food, Water & Environmental Microbiology Services, said:

"Our study found that the vast majority of ready-to-eat seeds we tested were safe to eat, however, a small number were contaminated with Salmonella or high levels of E. coli which is concerning. This is clearly unacceptable and in each case the retailer publicly recalled the contaminated batches and food alerts were issued by the Food Standards Agency advising consumers not to eat the affected products."

"When seed crops are grown they can be exposed to a wide range of bacteria from many sources including soil, manure, irrigation water, wild birds and animals. Seeds may also become contaminated during the drying process. The risk of human illness can be reduced for ready-to-eat seeds by hygienic manufacturing practices in the field, during harvesting and during processing of seeds."