Microbiological quality of ready-to-eat foods

Microbiological quality of ready-to-eat foods

July 2002 - June 2003

Objective

Determine the bacteriological status of ready-to-eat food products available on the ACT market.

Determine the compliance of these products to Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) Draft Guidelines for the Microbiological Examination of Ready-to-Eat Foods.

Background

    "Ready-to-Eat" (RTE) food is food that is ordinarily consumed in the same state as that in which it is sold or distributed and does not include nuts in the shell and whole, raw fruits and vegetables that are intended for hulling, peeling or washing by the consumers1."

Sandwiches, rolls, stir-fries, baked goods as well as various other RTE foods are widely available in approximately 450 ACT establishments. Due to the diverse nature and popularity of these foods it was considered prudent to perform ongoing surveys on these products in conjunction with the Environmental Health Section Premises Auditing Program of high-risk food producing establishments. The previous surveys on RTE foods conducted in 2000-2001 and 2001-2002 highlighted some problems with handling, storage and cross-contamination. This is a report on the third year's survey including comparisons with the previous two years results.

Standards

Samples collected for surveillance and monitoring purposes are often multi-component products for which there are no microbiological standards or guidelines. Interpreting the significance of the types and levels of reported microorganisms for these foods may therefore be difficult. The FSANZ Draft Guidelines for the Microbiological Examination of Ready-to-Eat Foods (the Guidelines) identify four categories of microbiological quality ranging from satisfactory to potentially hazardous. Table 1 below details the recommended guidelines. This Table reflects both the high level of microbiological quality that is achievable for RTE foods in Australia and New Zealand and also indicates the level of contamination that is considered to be a significant risk to public health.

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Health Protection Service - Ready-to-Eat Food Survey Report (PDF File - 58k)