The Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) has warned against consuming non-ready-to-eat frozen fruit and vegetables in smoothies and salads as the summer approaches.
New research from safefood has found almost a third of people report eating non-ready-to-eat fruit, vegetables and herbs without cooking them first.
However, a microbiological study from the FSAI has found this carries a “low-level risk of illness” due to the potential presence of the bacteria listeria monocytogenes.
The study analysed almost 1,000 samples of frozen vegetables, fruits and herbs on the Irish market for the presence of listeria monocytogenes, salmonella, listeria spp and E coli.
Listeria monocytogenes was found in 27 of the samples tested, amounting to three per cent, the majority of which were non-ready-to-eat frozen vegetables (21 samples).
The FSAI and safefood stress that while the figures were low for the presence of listeria monocytogenes, it is a potential health risk for people who may eat these non-ready-to-eat frozen foods uncooked frequently.
Dr Gary A Kearney, interim chief executive safefood, said: "We know from social media that there's a growing trend for people to eat frozen fruit and vegetables raw in things like smoothies and salads.
"While the risk of contracting a listeria infection is low, it's still a risk you can avoid by reading the manufacturer’s instructions and cooking these frozen foods before you eat them.
"Those most at risk from a listeria infection include young children, pregnant women and people with an underlying medical condition or weakened immunity. If the product says, 'cook before eating', we would remind people to always follow that advice."
Berries and sweetcorn
Symptoms of listeria monocytogenes infection can include mild flu-like symptoms, or gastrointestinal symptoms such as nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea.
It comes as almost a third, or 32 per cent, of respondents in an Ipsos MRBI survey carried out on behalf of safefood said they regularly eat one or more types of frozen vegetables, fruits or herbs without cooking them.
Strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, and mixed berries were the frozen fruits most likely to be eaten uncooked in a dessert or in a smoothie.
A smaller number of consumers said they regularly eat uncooked non-ready-to-eat frozen vegetables such as sweetcorn, carrots, peas, peppers, and spinach in a salad or as a garnish.
Dr Pamela Byrne, chief executive of the FSAI, emphasised the importance of correct labelling and that caterers and food service businesses must ensure they are following the manufacturers’ instructions when they are preparing food for their customers.
“It is vital that food manufacturers follow best practice guidelines and ensure frozen products that are not ready-to-eat are clearly labelled as such, with clear cooking instructions,” she said.
“They also need to ensure there are no serving suggestions presented on the packaging which could suggest that the products can be eaten thawed without prior cooking - whether they be frozen vegetables, fruit or herbs.
“Caterers and food service businesses must check the food labels and cook the frozen products, if instructed, so as to ensure that the food they are serving to their customers is safe to eat.”