Dirty Salads

Reporter: Rodney Lohse

With an obesity epidemic and a trend away from heavily processed foods, the benefits of eating fresh food are well known. Pre-made salads are now a standard in all food courts across the country. Sometimes these salads are not as fresh as they make out to be. Today Tonight commissioned a series of scientific tests on the ready-to go salads and the results have launched a health investigation. Biotech Laboratories Glen Pinna conducted the analysis.

Crawling with bacteria, many were so old they belonged in a bin, others were simply dangerous. If the premises is not well cleaned, well maintained and they are not using good workplace practices, there is a potential that salads can be a source of food poisoning. The Mediterranean salad with ham from Fruity Capers in Brisbane contained the debilitating Staphylococcus bacteria. Within hours Staphylococcus can cause food poisoning- vomiting and diarrhea.

Fruity Capers deli says it was "shocked by the findings having no recorded complaints since opening in 2005 and are taking the result seriously. They are now reviewing all it's preparation and refrigeration processes," said the spokesperson. There was also a disturbing result from Sumo Salad at Carindale in Brisbane. A Thai chicken noodle dish was harboring the potentially lethal Listeria. This is a big risk for women in their third trimester of pregnancy. The organism once it's in the mother's blood can cross, infect the baby and because their is no immune system, can cause stillbirth.

So serious is the find that under Queensland law, Glen is required to report it to Queensland Health for an inquiry. Sumo Salad was stunned by the Listeria finding saying "it endeavours to exceed the regulation food safety requirements and has contacted Queensland Health".

Perhaps the most shocking find was the overall standard of the ingredients found in the varying salads from different outlets. Scientists deem bacteria counts of a million or less as ideal. The worst of these salads maxed out Glen's count at over fifty three million, at least fifty times what they should have been.

Statistics from the Federal Department of Health and Ageing reveal five million cases of food poisoning are reported every year. Around 120 people die. It costs the community around $1 billion and equates to 2.1 million work days lost, 15,000 hospital admissions and 300,000 prescriptions for antibiotics.

Food Science Australia Research Director Dr Trish Desmarchelier said there is no need for alarm but warned some of these findings were poor indicators for the shops in question. "There's a greater risk there that it might be coming from a food handler so you need to have a good look at personal hygiene, provision of gloves, hair nets, other safety measures that would prevent people contaminating food. The buck doesn't just stop with the salad outlets. Customers are often responsible when things go wrong with their food. Once you buy food, if its a chilled, make sure you get it home and into the fridge and maintain that chilling as soon as you can. Don't drive around with your shopping in the boot of the car on a hot day and leaving it out and expect it to be in the same state as it was when you purchased it from the shop" Dr Desmarchelier said.