15 June 2001
Clean bill of health for organic veg

By FWi staff

ALMOST all organic vegetables sold in the UK are produced to high levels of hygiene, according to a new study by public health experts.

Of 3200 samples of uncooked ready-to-eat organic vegetables analysed, 99.5% were of “sound quality”, reports the Public Health Laboratory Service (PHLS).

The PHLS and Local Authorities Co-ordinated Body on Food and Trading Standards study was the first of its kind in the UK.

Its authors sought to establish how safe produce sold in the burgeoning organic market actually was.

Concerns have been raised that the use of manure in organic cultivation raises the risk of contamination from harmful micro-organisms.

But no traces of potentially deadly Listeria monocytogenes, Salmonella, Campylobacter or Escherichia coli O157 were discovered in testing.

Dr Robert Mitchell of the PHLS, one of the report authors, said this was “very encouraging”.

Researchers also tested for “indicator organisms” – bacteria found in soil, water and faeces – which they would expect to find at some level on vegetables.

The fact that permissible levels were found in 99.5% of the samples in the study also suggests “high levels of good practice”, said Dr Mitchell.

And while higher levels in the remaining 0.5% need not lead to disease in humans, it highlights the need to maintain high levels of hygiene, he added.

Francis Blake, standards and technical director of organic regulators the Soil Association said, the results were “welcome”, although “no great surprise”.

“Soil Association standards recommend that all animal manure is treated to destroy pathogens before it is applied to soil,” he said.

“The principles of organic farming are based on creating a healthy, living soil which in turn produces healthy plants and animals.

“More people are choosing to eat organic food today than ever before and this research will only serve to reinforce their trust in organic products as the healthy option,” he added.

Vegetables tested included lettuces, spring onions and carrots.

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