Safety The 'Priority' For Vegetable Growers Amid Salmonella Scare

10/02/2016 4:06 PM AEDT | Updated 15/07/2016 12:51 PM AEST
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SANTA BARBARA, CA - AUGUST 26: Baby lettuce is grown in hydroponic towers at the Urban Farms, located in the downtown Funk Zone, on August 26, 2015 in Santa Barbara, California. Because of its close proximity to Southern California and Los Angeles population centers, and mild Mediterranean climate, the coastal regions of Santa Barbara County have become a popular weekend getaway destination for millions of tourists each year. (Photo by George Rose/Getty Images)

Shoppers are being urged to get back to the fruit and vegetable aisle in the wake of the nationwide salmonella crisis, with the peak body for vegetable growers assuring consumers that safety is its number 1 priority.

At least 92 people have been struck down with salmonella poisoning since a pre-packed lettuce recall was announced earlier this month.

In Victoria, the number of cases has risen from 54 to 62, while another 30 cases have been reported around the rest of the nation.

The cases sparked the recall of lettuce linked to Tripod Farmers, based in Bacchus Marsh, west of Melbourne.

Industry peak body AUSVEG said there was no reason for local consumers to be worried, despite the outbreak.

“The number one priority of the industry is the safety of the consumer,” AUSVEG's national manager of scientific affairs, Jessica Lye, said on Wednesday.

“The events of last week have had a substantial impact on growers around the country, including in states unaffected by the recall, and AUSVEG is calling on Australian consumers to throw their support behind the Australian vegetable industry and continue to buy locally-grown produce.

“This recent recall is not indicative of a systematic food safety issue in the vegetable industry -- it i limited to one supplier, and all affected product has been taken off the shelves.”

According to Fairfax Media, the Federal Department of Health has been interviewing patients to determine whether they have eaten recalled products, which were sold at Coles, Woolworths, Bi-Lo and other grocers as Coles 4 Leaf Mix, Woolworths salad mix, SupaSalad Supamix and Wash N Toss salad mix.

The department has said it's closely monitoring the outbreak in Victoria and last week held a meeting between health and foodborne disease authorities on the situation.

There are reports emerging that some of the tainted lettuce could have been exported overseas.

AUSVEG's Lye said it was very uncommon for vegetables to be contaminated with salmonella in Australia.

"Food safety incidences in the Australian vegetable industry are exceedingly rare, and consumers can be confident in buying the fresh and prepackaged vegetable products that are available,” she said.

“There is a large number of lettuce growers right around the country who currently supply leafy vegetables to Coles, Woolworths and other retailers, and consumers can have faith in the quality of the product that these growers are supplying.

“Australian produce is known internationally for being high quality and safe to eat."

However, senior lecturer in the Food Science and Technology Group from the University of New South Wales, Dr Jian Zhao, said it was increasingly common for people to become infected through vegetables.

Salmonella can be contracted orally via consumption of food contaminated with human or animal faeces, according to Food Standards Australia New Zealand.

"Salmonella is common -- it is one of, if not the most, commonly implicated pathogens involved in foodborne outbreaks,” Dr Zhao told The Huffington Post Australia recently.

He advised concerned consumers to wash vegetables, ideally in warm water, before eating them to help avoid salmonella.

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