Raw milk products from Europe and Norway were less compliant than pasteurized items, according to a microbiological monitoring program in Norway.

The Norwegian Food Safety Authority (Mattilsynet) reported the microbiological quality was generally good for the items examined. However, results indicate there are “challenges” with pathogens in raw milk products from the EU and Norway.

Officials said although the number of samples was too low to judge the entire Norwegian market, results gave a picture of the situation. A total of 189 samples of dairy products on the domestic market were looked at by the Norwegian Food Safety Authority in 2018. In total, from 2010 to 2018, 903 samples were collected.

They included unpasteurized and pasteurized cheeses and other milk products produced in Norway and the EU. Analysis was done by the Norwegian Veterinary Institute. Samples were collected from shops, importers of food and producers including small and medium enterprises.

STEC in raw milk products
Based on the findings, the Norwegian Food Safety Authority recommends that people in vulnerable groups should not consume unpasteurized dairy products.

In surveillance programs in 2016 and 2018, 178 samples of raw milk products were analyzed for Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC) and it was isolated from five samples. Three of the isolates were from Norwegian producers and two from EU products. They included E. coli O113 and O26.

In 2018, 96 unpasteurized milk products were examined including 71 from Norway and 25 from Europe, and STEC was found in a French cheese made from cow’s milk.

From the 903 samples of milk and milk products analyzed for Listeria monocytogenes, none had more than 100 colony forming units per gram (cfu/g) but it was detected at lower levels in one sample.

However, absence of non-compliant results in a surveillance program does not mean there are no risky products on the market, according to researchers. During the past 15 years, there have been two listeriosis outbreaks in Norway linked to soft cheeses. Salmonella was not detected in any of 55 samples analyzed in 2016 and 2018.

Results for pasteurized tests
Pasteurized products were analyzed for hygiene indicators as cross contamination is assumed to be the main reason for contamination in these products.

In 144 pasteurized dairy products from Norway from 2016 and 2018, E. coli was found above 100 cfu/g, which is the lower limit in legislation, in only one product. The value was under 1,000 cfu/g which is the upper limit.

E. coli was found in 10 of 71 samples of raw milk products from Norway. Among these, there was 10 cfu/g in four samples, between 20 and 100 cfu/g in three samples, between 100 and 1,000 cfu/g in one product and above 1,000 cfu/g in two items. This shows it is possible to make raw milk products with good hygiene, according to the report.

In 25 unpasteurized dairy products from the EU, five had more than 100 cfu/g and two were above 1,000 cfu/g.

Staphylococcus aureus was detected in 38 percent of 71 unpasteurized Norwegian dairy products taken in 2018 but not at levels exceeding the regulations’ lower limit value of 10,000 cfu/g.

Boil peas and wash produce
Meanwhile, the Norwegian Food Safety Authority has told people to boil imported sugar peas, also known as sugar snaps.

Norwegians often eat raw sugar peas but authorities said they can come from countries where hygiene conditions are poorer compared to food production in Norway. In many of these countries, sugar peas are traditionally heat-treated before being eaten.

In December 2019, several people in Oslo fell sick after eating sugar peas from Kenya contaminated with Shigella sonnei.

Many people use sugar peas as healthy snacks for young children, who are at a higher risk of illness than healthy adults. Pre-packed sugar peas are often labeled with how they should be treated.

The agency added salads and herbs imported from countries with warm climates should always be rinsed well as some nations have a shortage of clean irrigation water.

There has been an increase in outbreaks in recent years that had chives, basil or coriander as suspected sources of infection. It is most often bacteria such as Salmonella and E. coli but there is also a risk from viruses and parasites.

Most bacteria die when heated to above 70 degrees C (158 degrees F). Risk can also be reduced by adding imported vegetables to vinegar baths and using herbs on top of ready-made dishes just before serving or putting them in a separate side dish. Produce should be left in the bath for 10 to 15 minutes. Then rinse them well with clean, cold water to remove the vinegar taste.

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