UK article on Organic Food Safety

Thursday, 14 June, 2001, 10:46 GMT 11:46 UK Organic food 'hygienic'

Research was carried out on carrots

The overwhelming majority of organic vegetables are free from bugs that cause disease in humans, research suggests. The Public Health Laboratory Service tested more than 3,000 samples of uncooked, ready-to-eat organic vegetables for the presence of disease-causing micro-organisms.

The researchers found that 99.5% of the samples were of "sound quality". None of the samples showed any evidence of the presence of four key microbes - listeria, salmonella, campylobacter and E. coli 0157.

And just 0.5% showed evidence of "indicator organisms" that, while not harmful in themselves, suggest a lack of hygiene. The results suggest that the agricultural, hygiene, harvesting and production practices under which these products were produced were overall very good. 'Very encouraging'

We did not find these potentially dangerous organisms in any of the 3200 samples we tested, which is of course very encouraging.

Dr Robert Mitchell

Researcher Dr Robert Mitchell said: "Over the last few years the size of the market for organic food has grown dramatically, and so has interest in how "safe" organic foods are.

"This study, the first of its kind in this country, looked for evidence of four key organisms which can cause disease in humans. "We did not find these potentially dangerous organisms in any of the 3,200 samples we tested, which is of course very encouraging." Indicator organisms are bacteria which are found in soil and water and in the faeces of animals. They are very common in the environment, and so it is likely that they will be present at some level on products like vegetables, which are often grown close to the soil.

Dr Mitchell said: "We do not generally see disease caused by organisms like these, but if we find higher levels of these organisms then this can indicate poor hygiene in production processes. "The fact that we found permissible levels of these organisms in 99.5% of the samples in this study also suggests high levels of good practice.

"In the remaining 0.5% we found higher levels; this does not mean that the produce would cause disease in humans, but it does underscore the importance of maintaining the high levels of hygiene and production quality which appear to have taken place in the other 99.5%"

The study was carried out in May and June 2000. It looked at vegetables such as carrots, lettuce and spring onions which were grown close to or in contact with the soil and which were sold to be consumed without any further cooking or preparation other than light washing or scraping.

In total, 3200 samples were taken from outlets across the UK which ranged from supermarkets and health food stores to farm shops and market stalls.


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