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Low levels of E. coli found in Norwegian produce testing

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Testing of fresh produce in Norway has found a low level of E. coli contamination.

The Norwegian Food Safety Authority (Mattilsynet) commissioned the Veterinary Institute to examine ready-to-eat lettuce and sugar snap peas in 2021.

A total of 118 samples, of which 37 were sugar snap peas and 81 ready-to-eat leafy greens, were analyzed. Salmonella was not detected, while E. coli was found in 11 samples, one of sugar snap peas and 10 of lettuce. E. coli, as a hygiene indicator, at levels above the guideline values was only detected in one sample of lettuce.

Results were considered unsatisfactory if three or more samples contained more than 100 colony forming units per gram or one sample contained above 1,000 CFU/g.

Officials said finding high levels of E. coli in lettuce may indicate the production process is not working optimally. Good raw material control and management of the washing and rinsing process are important, so microorganisms do not build-up and cross-contamination via water is minimized.

Samples were taken from manufacturers, importers, wholesalers and retailers throughout the year.

Such products can be contaminated via irrigation water, wild birds and animals, insects, soil, equipment and from humans during harvest. Appropriate water quality must be maintained during processing. They are also usually consumed without heat treatment.

Results from previous tests on fresh produce, such as berries, sugar snap peas, leafy herbs and leafy greens, also showed the occurrence of Salmonella was low. E. coli was detected in some samples, but at low concentrations.

Analysis of flour and teas
Another monitoring program in 2021 looked at plant toxins.

Ten samples of buckwheat and buckwheat flour were negative for tropane alkaloids, in the form of atropine and scopolamine. Twenty samples were various herbal teas tested for pyrrolizidine alkaloids by the Norwegian Institute for Bioeconomy (NIBIO).

A number of plants produce toxins as a natural defense against being eaten. Some toxins are harmful to humans, either as acute poisoning or due to long-term effects.

In 13 of the herbal tea samples, pyrrolizidine alkaloids were detected. These can be harmful to the liver and carcinogenic over time. In 2021, there was no maximum limit for pyrrolizidine alkaloids in food. But, since July 2022 there has been a limit in some items, including teas. There was one sample of a breastfeeding tea from Germany above this level.

There were varying levels of pyrrolizidine alkaloids in rooibos tea, chamomile and peppermint tea.

To reduce possible health risks, the Norwegian Food Safety Authority recommended limiting and varying the intake of herbal tea, especially for pregnant and breastfeeding women.

(To sign up for a free subscription to Food Safety News, click here.)

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