Alarm bells are ringing in Spain: is eating pre-packaged tortilla safe?

by Lorraine Williamson
food safety

The Spanish Food Safety Agency (AESAN) is investigating cases of botulism associated with the consumption of packaged tortillas (potato omelettes) from some well-known supermarkets.  

And alarm bells have started ringing – are these tortillas not safe? What could have happened? First of all, many consumers mistakenly believe that they do not need to be refrigerated and can be kept at room temperature. Tortillas are prone to the growth of microorganisms and at these temperatures they can multiply rapidly. Althought tortillas are safe to eat, they should always be stored in the refrigerator, but sometimes we forget.  

‘This mistake is common and can lead to a food safety problem with botulism. Tortillas are pasteurised, so they have undergone heat treatment that destroys the pathogenic microorganisms, but it does not destroy a form of resistance that these pathogenic microorganisms have, which is the spores. The cold prevents these spores from causing problems, but if we leave them at room temperature, that is, if we take them out of the cold chain, they can germinate and cause botulism,’ explained food technologist Beatriz Robles.  

Food safety guideline 

To prevent health problems, there is a food safety guideline for the foods we buy in the supermarket: if we buy them at refrigeration, the cold chain must be maintained. What you buy at room temperature can be kept unopened in the pantry. And you can eat within the expiration date. However, there is an exception for storing eggs; experts recommend putting them in the refrigerator when you get home.  

Cogesa Expats

Experts say it is important that consumers use the product properly, follow recommended storage guidelines and respect the expiration date and labelling information. Especially in the summer. Bacteria love the heat, starting at 20 degrees they start to multiply easily, so if we don’t want them to develop, it’s best to be careful.  

Eating outside 

The tip for those who take food outside that needs to be refrigerated, including the potato omelette, is to always keep it cold, such as using a cooler with blocks of ice. This involves foods that are susceptible to the growth of microorganisms, and at current temperatures they can multiply until they reach the so-called infectious dose. 

 Also read: The great tortilla debate

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