Research recently done by the University of Adelaide found that of the 174 ready to eat deli meats sampled in Adelaide, 134 contained bacterial levels that did not comply with the Food Standards Code. Even though E.coli and other food poisoning bacteria were not found, coliforms were found on around 15 percent of the samples. The presence of coliforms is a possible indicator of faecal contamination. This reinforces the obvious finding from the research, that there were likely hygiene problems in the businesses where the samples were taken.
Veterinary Public Health Professor Michael Reichel said; “The presence of coliform would indicate really poor hygiene such as people not washing their hands after going to the toilet. These levels of bacterial counts tell us that storage conditions, product handling and turnover should all be investigated.” Sample sizes of between 100 and 200 g were taken of each meat, and 90 percent of the samples came from the delis in large chain supermarkets. 35 supermarkets were visited during the study, but were not specifically identified in the report.
The research was actually done late in 2013 by final year veterinary science students at the University. The main culprits were sliced salami, fritz and roast pork. Interestingly the chicken and ham samples showed lower levels of bacteria.
So are deli meats safe? Due to the nature of the process in delis, the meats are more likely to have higher bacterial levels and this research reinforces this. The increase has three potential reasons;
- these products are handled more than most foods and this increases the bacterial load,
- if hygiene including good and regular hand washing is not well maintained, these bacteria can grow easily.
- if temperatures are not carefully managed at all stages during the deli process, any bacteria on the meats will grow rapidly.
Good staff training is also vitally important to ensure that they not only know what the requirements are but how to do them when required.
Like all potentially hazardous foods, these deli meats will allow pathogens to grow rapidly if they are contaminated and poorly handled. Good food safety controls will prevent this as long as staff are following them.
So at the end of the day, are deli meats safe? Yes, when there is good food safety.
Written by Rachelle Williams – the Green Food Safety Coach