Background to the Study

Ready-to-eat food is not a nominated food or class of food within Standard. This Product group is defined as: Food that is ordinarily consumed in the same state  as that in which it is sold and does not Include nuts in the shell and whole, raw fruits and vegetables that are intended for hulling, peeling or washing by the consumer (NSW, 2009). Although it is extremely difficult to pinpoint the precise beginning of human awareness of the presence and role of microorganisms in foods, the available evidence indicates that this knowledge preceded the establishment of bacteriology or microbiology as a science (Jay et al. 2005).

Some ready-to-eat foods also are regarded as ‘potentially hazardous’. Such foods can support the growth of pathogenic (food poisoning) bacteria and must be kept at certain temperatures to minimize the growth of any pathogens that may be present in the food or to prevent the formation of toxins in the food (NSW, 2009)

There is a wide variety of ready-to-eat foods. Examples include, but are not limited to, Sandwiches, kebabs, sushi, takeaway foods and bakery products (NSW, 2009). Ready-to-eat foods usually include a number of ingredients which may or may not be cooked. Due to the variety of ready-to-eat foods, the interpretation of microbiological results obtained from testing must account for the method of processing and the individual components of the food (NSW, 2009). To assist with interpreting the microbiological analyses of such foods as part of our monitoring and surveillance program (i.e. surveys), the NSW Food Authority uses criteria that are based on interpretive guides published by the United Kingdom’s Health Protection Agency and by Food Standards of Australia, New Zealand (FSANZ, 2001; NSW, 2009)

Because human food sources are of plant and animal origin, it is important to understand the biological principles of the microbial biota associated with plants and animals in their natural habitats and respective roles (Jay et al., 2005). Although it sometimes appears that microorganisms are trying to ruin our food sources by infecting and destroying plants and animals, including humans, this is by no means their primary role in nature (Jay et al., 2005). In our present view of life on this planet, the primary function of microorganisms in nature is self-perpetuation.

The microbial spoilage of foods may be viewed simply as an attempt by the food biota to carry out what appears to be their primary role in nature (Jay et al., 2005). Food borne illness is defined as  diseases, usually  either  infectious  or  toxic  in  nature, caused by agents that  enter  the  body  though  the  ingestion  of food (WHO, 2007).  Governments  all  over  the world are intensifying their efforts to improve food safety in response to an increasing number of food safety problems and rising consumer concerns (WHO, 2007). “Food borne illnesses account for about one of every 100 U.S. hospitalizations and one of every 500 deaths” (Buzby et al., 2001).