Watch those sandwiches!
Ninety-nine per cent of pre-packaged sandwiches proved satisfactory when tested for the food-borne bacteria Listeria monocytogenes and coagulase positive staphylococci. But 29 per cent of the sandwiches tested by the Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) were stored or displayed at temperatures higher than 5°C – a concern to the FSAI.
The results were published in a recent study which assessed the microbiological safety of pre-packed sandwiches. The study found that four of the five sandwiches which were classified as unsatisfactory or unacceptable/potentially hazardous were stored above 8°C, with one sandwich displayed unrefrigerated at 17.9°C.
For three of these sandwiches, there was at least one day remaining until the ‘use-by’ date expired, which could have allowed even more bacteria to grow. While the incidence of Listeria monocytogenes infection is rare in Ireland, there is a high mortality rate (up to 40 per cent) and only small numbers need to be consumed to cause serious infection.
Commenting on the findings of the study, FSAI Chief Executive Prof Alan Reilly said that the survey highlighted an unacceptable disregard for temperature control.
“Storing pre-packaged sandwiches at the incorrect temperature can lead to food poisoning. The onus is on retailers and caterers to ensure pre-packaged sandwiches are refrigerated at the recommended temperature of 5°C or cooler. Hospitals and other establishments, which cater for vulnerable patients and the elderly, should be vigilant in monitoring temperature control and ‘use-by’ dates. Equally important, manufacturers must ensure that accurate and realistic use-by dates are applied to the sandwiches they make.”
The study involved the HSE testing 948 pre-packaged sandwiches from retailers and caterers across the country. It found that nearly all (99 per cent) of these pre-packaged sandwiches were labelled correctly with a use-by date as required by law. However, the report noted that the shelf-life given to some sandwiches may have been too long.
Sandwiches made to order, unwrapped sandwiches and sandwiches which receive heat-treatment, eg toasted sandwiches and paninis were excluded from study.