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Int J Food Microbiol. 2006 Nov 1;112(2):83-95. Epub 2006 Oct 12.

A field study of the microbiological quality of fresh produce of domestic and Mexican origin.

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Department of Food Science, College of Life Science and Agriculture, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, NC 27695-7624, USA.


Produce is responsible for an increasingly larger proportion of foodborne disease outbreaks. In particular, the globalization of the food supply may introduce new food safety risks and allow widespread distribution of contaminated food, particularly produce. The objectives of this study were to: (i) compare the overall quality of domestic and Mexican produce throughout the packing process; (ii) examine changes in microbiological quality of both domestic and Mexican produce at each stage of production and processing; and (iii) evaluate the prevalence of select pathogens on fresh produce, including leafy green, herbs, melons, and vegetables. Furthermore, we also sought to characterize the antibiotic resistance profiles of Enterococcus faecium and Enterococcus faecalis strains isolated from fresh produce. A total of 466 produce and matching environmental swab samples was collected from various locations in packing sheds in the southern US from November 2002 through December 2003. These samples were assayed by enumerative tests for total aerobic bacteria (APC), total coliforms, total Enterococcus, and E. coli. Produce samples were also analyzed for the presence of Salmonella, Listeria monocytogenes, Shigella, and E. coli O157:H7. A total of 112 E. faecium and E. faecalis isolates were further screened for antibiotic resistance using a panel of seventeen antibiotics. Overall, the microbiological quality of fresh produce ranged from 4.0 to 7.9 log(10) CFU/g (APC); less than 1.0 log(10) to 4.5 log(10) CFU/g (coliforms); less than 1.0 log(10) to 4.0 log(10) CFU/g (E. coli); and less than 1.0 log(10) to 5.4 log(10) CFU/g (Enterococcus). No Salmonella, Shigella, or E. coli O157:H7 were detected from the 466 25-g produce samples tested. However, three domestic cabbage samples were found to be positive for L. monocytogenes. Of the Enterococcus isolates, E. faecium had a higher degree of resistance to antibiotics in general, while Enterococcus spp. isolated from Mexican produce had a higher degree of antibiotic resistance when compared to strains isolated from produce samples of domestic origin. Despite increased attention to the role of imported produce in foodborne disease, this study does not support the assumption that domestic produce is of higher microbial quality than Mexican produce.

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