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Home News centre National Press Releases 2009 Press Releases ›  Low levels of contamination found in ready-to-eat speciality meats sold in UK

Low levels of contamination found in ready-to-eat speciality meats sold in UK

30 July 2009

A new report published today highlights that 99% of ready-to-eat speciality meats sold in the UK are safe to eat. However the study also reveals that a very small proportion of the meats contained Salmonella or unsafe levels of Listeria monocytogenes.

The year long study into the microbiological safety of the speciality meats was carried out by the Health Protection Agency, LACORS (the Local Authorities Co-ordinators of Regulatory Services) and local councils.

A total of 2359 ready-to-eat speciality meat samples (continental sausages, cured/fermented, and dried meats) were collected from markets and specialist food shops in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. The samples were tested for Salmonella, Listeria monocytogenes, other Listeria, Staphylococcus aureus, and E. coli.

Samples included:

  • Strip-dried meats, such as biltong and jerky
  • Continental sausages, including salami, chorizo, bologna, pepperoni and mettwurst
  • Cured or fermented meats, including 'raw' hams (e.g. prosciutto, Serrano, York, Ardennes, Westphalian) and beef (e.g. pastrami and bresaloa)

Dr Jim McLauchlin, Director of the Health Protection Agency's Food, Water & Environmental Microbiology Services, said:

 "Our study shows that the vast majority of ready-to-eat speciality meats tested were safe to eat, but a very small number were found to be contaminated with Salmonella or high levels of L. monocytogenes. These are unacceptable in ready to eat foods and, if consumed, can make people ill.

"The results highlight the generally good control in the manufacture and retail of these meats. However the presence of pathogens in pre-packed ready-to-eat meats suggests that for some meats contamination occurred either during processing or as a result of cross-contamination after processing.

"The long shelf life of some specialty meats may also allow L. monocytogenes to reach unacceptable levels if stored inappropriately. It is important that manufacturers ensure the product doesn't become contaminated before final packaging and retailers store the meats correctly."

LACORS Chairman, Councillor Geoffrey Theobald OBE, said:

"Councils across the country are supporting businesses to help ensure that the food we eat is safe. Studies like this are a powerful means of councils working together to protect their communities by responding to emerging trends and potential risks".

The full report can be found on the Health Protection Agency's website at


Notes to Editors:

1) The study was carried out between 1 April 2008 and 31 March 2009.

2) Samples were collected by sampling officers from 257 Environmental Health Departments, involving 50 Local Authority Food Liaison Groups across England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

3) The terms used to express the microbiological quality of ready-to-eat foods are:

Satisfactory - test results indicating good microbiological quality.
Acceptable - an index reflecting a borderline limit of microbiological quality.
Unsatisfactory - test results indicating that further sampling may be necessary and that environmental health officers may wish to undertake a further inspection of the premises concerned to determine whether hygiene practices for food production or handling are adequate or not.
Unacceptable/potentially hazardous - test results indicating that urgent attention is needed to locate the source of the problem; a detailed risk assessment is recommended. Such results may also form a basis for prosecution by environmental health departments, especially if they occur in more than one sample.

4) Media enquiries to:
Katherine Lewis, 020 7759 2824 /

Last reviewed: 30 July 2009