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How safe are British salads?

There have been no cases of food pathogens resulting from British tomato, pepper or cucumber production in living memory and consumers can continue to buy and enjoy.

British produce with confidence.

The answer is – the safest in the world!

The news has been awash with reports of the serious outbreak of E. coli linked to the Hamburg area of Germany. The German health authorities have now concluded that the source of this new strain of the bacterium is a locally produced food item, not imported cucumbers or other salad crops.

E. coli does not infect plants. Fruit and vegetables can only be involved in this sort of incident if they are contaminated through poor food hygiene practices, or from animal manures or contaminated water applied to crops.

The most likely sources of food poisoning infections such as E. coli are:

  • Cross-contamination from other foods in storage, especially where raw meat and chicken is stored above salad drawers in the fridge.
  • Cross-contamination during food preparation from poor hygiene practices, such as dirty work surfaces, utensils and hands.
  • Contamination during harvesting or packing, where hygiene procedures and sanitation are not adequate.
  • Water used to irrigate crops being contaminated with human or animal waste. This is most likely to happen where water is extracted from streams and rivers where sewerage and waste treatment systems are not as good as in the UK; where crops are grown outside in hot climates; and where crops are irrigated overhead by spraylines i.e. the leaves and fruit are wetted, not just the roots.
  • The soil, to which animal manures have been applied, either by direct contact of produce with the soil or water splash from it.

Is there any risk from eating British tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers?

The most rigorous standards of hygiene and cleanliness are adopted in British nurseries and packhouses. British retailers insist on regular inspections, audits and testing to ensure these standards are met and maintained.

Growing and packing staff are subject to health screening on appointment and at regular intervals thereafter.
Packaging is commonly used to protect food from handling by others during sale.

British crops are irrigated with clean water from mains or borehole supplies or filtered rainwater, not from streams or rivers.  None are irrigated by overhead spraylines, water being applied directly to the roots.
All British commercial tomato, pepper and cucumber crops are grown in greenhouses, not outside.
Apart from organic crops, all British tomato, pepper and cucumber crops are grown in isolation from the soil, mostly in grow bags in sterile growing materials such as rockwool.

Animal manures are not used for growing any of these crops.
British tomatoes are great in cooked dishes, without the salt and sugar added to many processed ones, so that’s always an option.

Joint release from the TGA & CGA - 13 June 2011.

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