The University of Adelaide has conducted a new research with findings that indicate that three-fourths of supermarket deli meats had bacteria levels that were not up to par with the food safety guidelines.
"The research found that of 174 samples of various ready-to-eat deli meats bought in supermarket deli sections across the greater Adelaide area, 134 (77%) had bacterial levels that failed to meet food standards guidelines."
Meats with the highest incidence of unsatisfactory bacterial counts included sliced salami, fritz and roast pork, while ham and chicken meats had lower levels of bacteria, but two-thirds of those samples still failed to meet satisfactory standards.
He continued that 15.5 per cent of the samples which showed presence of coliform bacteria associated with faecal contamination with other samples, indicating spoilage with bacterial counts of more than 108 or 100 million per grammes.
This would mean that people handling food may not be adhering to food safety guidelines like wearing gloves or washing their hands after using the bathroom.
"These levels of bacterial counts tell us that storage conditions, product handling and turnover should all be investigated."
While no food poisoning pathogens were found on the meats (i.e. Escherichia coli or Salmonella species), this is an eye-opener to the realities of food handling, food safety and also food quality, that poses a threat to public heath.
"Such out-of-control processes are also susceptible to contamination with serious food poisoning organisms."
The samples were taken from a number of different locations, including large supermarkets in the area as well as local butchers that were all randomly selected.
According to Reichel, almost half of Australia's population consumes ready-to-eat deli meats and "People have a right to expect that the product they buy on the weekend should last through the following week, not go slimy in a couple of days."
The study was carried out by sixth year veterinary science students in 2013 as part of their rotation in veterinary public health and will be presented in this week's Australian Veterinary Association Annual Conference at the Perth Convention Centre.
Reichel poses a warning to supermarkets and retailers on the need to ensure compliance to food standards and guidelines and recommends occasional microbiological testing to ensure food quality and safety.