Supermarket warning as highly contagious bug found in UK pre-washed vegetables

supermarket warning as highly contagious bug found in uk pre-washed vegetables

A bag of mixed salad leaves (file image)

A highly infectious bug causing vomiting and diarrhoea has been detected in nearly a fifth of pre-washed vegetables sold in supermarkets.

Scientists, who examined samples from various supermarkets, found that almost 17% were contaminated with cryptosporidium. This is the same parasite responsible for an outbreak in Devon in May, which affected more than 100 people. The Brixham area outbreak was thought to have been caused by a faulty air valve leading to tap water contamination.

The study, conducted by the University of Kent School of Biosciences, discovered several packs of ready-to-eat vegetables containing the parasite. This has led to warnings about how consumers should handle such produce before consumption. The research team did not disclose which supermarkets the affected produce came from. However, they suggested that the figures are likely representative across the entire sector and that pre-washed or ready-to-eat vegetables should be handled with caution.

University experts analysed a total of 36 packs of pre-washed vegetables purchased from four Canterbury, Kent supermarkets between May and July 2023. Samples were randomly selected, and duplicates of each variety were tested, reports Kent Live. The findings revealed that 12 of the samples didn't meet the criteria for inclusion. However, of the remaining 24, 58% tested positive for cryptosporidium, and 17% (four) showed similarities to cryptosporidium parvum - the primary cause of human cryptosporidiosis.

The researchers were uncertain about the source of the contamination, suggesting it could have occurred at any stage from farm to store. They warned that this could have "implications for public health in the UK" and called for further investigations.

The report stated that pre-washed and ready-to-eat vegetables are typically more thoroughly cleaned with chlorine disinfectant-laced water than unpackaged vegetables. As such, they're expected to be free from parasites and safe to eat straight from the packaging. However, cryptosporidium particles (oocysts) are resistant to chlorine disinfection and can only be reliably eliminated by boiling water or filtration. This means that without these procedures, the particles can linger and potentially cause illness.

In their report, the experts stated: "This pilot study could unlock a potential common source of cryptosporidium infection across the various regions in the UK. The vegetables from individual chain supermarkets are packaged in their own central facilities and subsequently distributed nationwide."

"Our study could contribute to developing better strategies to prevent infection with Cryptosporidium. Further studies could focus on tracking the exact point of contamination and addressing it." Cryptosporidium is a parasite that causes an infection known as cryptosporidiosis, which can affect both humans and farm animals. This nasty bug lurks in places like lakes, streams, rivers, untreated drinking water, and occasionally, swimming pools.

The NHS warns that you can catch this pesky parasite directly from others or animals if you get up close and personal with faeces think changing nappies or forgetting to wash your hands properly before they go anywhere near your mouth. But that's not all; taking a dip in infected waters or munching on contaminated grub, especially unpasteurised milk, undercooked meat, and offal (that's liver, kidneys, and heart for those not in the know), can also leave you in a spot of bother.

If you're unlucky enough to fall victim to Cryptosporidium, brace yourself for a barrage of unpleasant symptoms: think relentless watery diarrhoea, stomach cramps, feeling sick or actually being sick, a mild fever, and a loss of appetite that can knock you sideways with dehydration and weight loss. These nasty effects typically stick around for a fortnight but can drag on longer, particularly for folks with compromised immune systems.

And just when you think you've beaten the bug, it can make an unwelcome comeback a few days later, dragging out your misery before you finally shake it. Since these symptoms are dead ringers for other gut-wrenching illnesses, the only surefire way to pin the blame on cryptosporidium is to have a doctor send your stool sample off to a lab for testing.

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