Ready-to-eat meals have health authorities worried

MORE than 40 per cent of ready-to-eat meals tested by SA Health contained an unsatisfactory level of bacteria, according to survey results published in the Eastern Health Authority's annual report.

The report published this month said one of the tested meals contained 310 times the safe level of Bacillus cereus - a bacteria that causes food poisoning - and another had almost 13 times the safe level of E. coli, which comes from faeces.

Eastern Health Authority chief executive Michael Livori.
Eastern Health Authority chief executive Michael Livori.

Out of 98 meals bought at local supermarkets and shops with a shelf life of 10 or more days, 42 had an unsatisfactory micro-organism count.

Eastern Health Authority chief executive Michael Livori said more small businesses were trying to capitalise on the growing popularity of ready-to-eat meals without understanding the health risks involved.

"Most manufacturers who are normally in this business will (understand the risks) but there's an increase in small businesses or retailers getting into this realm but not without risk," Mr Livori said.

The SA Health survey and subsequent report, published in June, was sparked by Eastern Health Authority concerns about the standard of manufacturing processes of ready-to-eat meals.

The report recommended measures to prevent bacteria growing in ready-to-eat meals, including that they be heated to at least 90C for 10 minutes when being cooked.

Meanwhile, the Eastern Health Authority issued 10 businesses with prohibition orders in 2016/17, banning them from preparing, selling or transporting food until they cleaned up their act, compared with three in the previous two financial years.

Yellow chicken curry.
Yellow chicken curry.

The number of public health complaints fell 13 per cent in 2016/17, to 232.

About half of the complaints related to overgrown vegetation, accumulated rubbish or poor poultry keeping.

Categories to increase in complaints included domestic squalor, hoarding and notifiable diseases.

The Eastern Health Authority looks after food safety and public health for Burnside, Campbelltown, Norwood, Payneham & St Peters, Prospect and Walkerville councils.


Worst cases

AN alla panna sauce (for pasta) had 31,000 B. cereus in it, or 310 times the acceptable level of under 100.

A yellow chicken curry had 38 E. coli bacteria in it, or 13 times the acceptable level of under three.

A barramundi and vegetables meal had 21 E. coli, or seven times the acceptable level.

A scotch fillet and vegetables meal had a standard plate count of 300 million bacteria in it, or 300,000 times the acceptable level.

One home-based business was found selling unrefrigerated ready-to-eat meals at a pop-up market and had not notified the local council.