Having traditionally cooked foods as raw flagged in report on emerging issues

By Joseph James Whitworth contact

- Last updated on GMT

Yersinia pseudotuberculosis, oxalic acid and raw beetroot feature in emerging risks identified by EREN
Yersinia pseudotuberculosis, oxalic acid and raw beetroot feature in emerging risks identified by EREN

Related tags: Bacteria

Yersinia pseudotuberculosis in raw milk, oxalic acid in green smoothies and an outbreak related to raw beetroot were emerging issues identified by the Emerging Risks Exchange Network (EREN).

It found many issues stem from the trend to consume raw products that were traditionally cooked.

EREN discussed 13 potential emerging issues and classified them into seven categories in its 2015 annual report​.

The network is made up of delegates from 22 Member States and two EFTA countries (Norway and Switzerland) and observers from the European Commission, the US Food and Drug Administration, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and the World Health Organization.

Raw beetroot outbreaks

One emerging issue was raised after a series of outbreaks linked to eating raw beetroot in France in 2014.

Traceback investigations indicated two varieties of beetroots were involved in food poisonings that were produced in two countries, Belgium (Boro variety) and Spain (Monty RZ variety).

Hay as food or food additive

In Austria, more samples with hay as a food ingredient exist than in the past. Examples include chocolate with hay, cheese with hay (hay or wild flowers), liqueur and liquors made out of or with hay and soft drink with hay extract. This is triggered by the desire of consumers for food as natural as possible and manufacturers to develop products with a unique selling proposition. Hay as a natural product can contain toxic plants, microorganisms, contaminants and parasites. In Italy there was a fatal case linked to the consumption of hay soup. France said hay products may become an issue and EFSA should start looking into it.

Routine microbiological analyses did not identify foodborne pathogens. Further analysis for moulds and residues of pesticides were also negative.

Beetroots were delivered to processing companies in France, where they were peeled, washed (chlorine water) and grated before being packed in plastic bags (non-modified atmosphere packing).

Packed raw grated beetroots have a shelf life of six days in refrigerated conditions (at 0-4°C). These conditions prevent growth of pathogenic bacteria but can enhance psychrotrophic bacteria (e.g. Pseudomonas).

The French National Institute for Agronomic research (INRA) is screening toxin-producing microbiological agents and chemical compounds in the incriminated beetroot samples with conclusions expected this year.

French food authorities banned raw beetroots from menus of communal catering facilities for schools and retirement houses.

Oxalic acid

Another issue is oxalic acid in green smoothies, which are made from leafy greens and fruit drinks and are a trending product with health claims (not necessarily approved).

Based on previous research, it is assumed a dietary daily intake of 180mg oxalic acid may be a critical value for kidney stone formation.

However, based on the recipes of commercially bottled products available in Germany, the calculation of the oxalic acid content of green smoothies revealed the assumed critical value for kidney stone formation is mostly exceeded by one portion (250 ml).

Legislation on novel food will most likely not apply as the vegetables used and the process, most probably blending, are not novel, said the report.

The legal basis for recommended or maximum levels of oxalic acid in food is also missing.

Yersinia pseudotuberculosis outbreak

An outbreak of 55 people, 35 male and 20 female from one to 67 years of age, caused by Yersinia pseudotuberculosis (YP) from raw milk occurred in March 2014 in Finland.

The infectious dose was estimated at 2,600 – 12,000 YP cfu, calculated from information on the consumed amount of raw milk and the growth rate / increase in quantities of YP bacteria detected in the farm’s raw milk after milking.

It suggests that the number of cells required to infect a person is much smaller than previously estimated (108 - 109 cfu).

After outbreak investigations, the farm was monitored for YP in May, June, October and November.

YP was absent from tank milk and filters in June but positive again in October (milk and filters) and November (filters). The farm was given advice and instructions to improve hygiene.

YP is challenging because it is able to grow at refrigerator temperatures and in vacuum and MAP packages.

Finland discussed a mandatory sampling for YP regarding requirements for the raw milk selling producers but the proposal was dropped because expenses needed to be reasonable and YP was not considered a major risk of raw milk consumption.

Other emerging risks identified

Growth of Vibrio spp in Northern waters and TTX detection in European bivalve shellfish, putative new influenza virus identified in livestock species (cattle and swine), increase of deoxynivalenol and zearalenone levels in Italy in 2014 and zoonotic spread of Carbapenemase-producing Enterobacteriaceae (CPE) and Acinetobacter CPA were other risks.

As well as dermatitis due to raw or undercooked shiitake consumption, increased incidence of Salmonella Infantis in broiler meat in Croatia, artificial plastic rice and hay as a food or food additive.

EREN concluded the risks from consumption of bitter apricot kernels was not considered an emerging issue and for natural occurrence of bisphenol F (BPF) in mustard it was challenging to conclude on the status of emergence.

The next step is the issues and referring recommendations are discussed at the different technical working groups (WGs) in EFSA to decide on possible follow up actions.

On the increase of deoxynivalenol and zearalenone levels: EFSA received a new mandate for the CONTAM panel to draft a scientific opinion on the risks for animal and public health related to the presence of deoxynivalenol, metabolites of deoxynivalenol and masked deoxynivalenol in food and feed. The opinion is expected to be published by the end of 2016.

On consumption of hay containing food items and green smoothies: A market intelligence database will be consulted to identify products released at retail level on the European market with the aim of analysing trends (by the end of 2016).

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