Microbiological Study of Ready-to-Eat Salad Vegetables from Retail Establishments Uncovers a National Outbreak of Salmonellosis

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Abstract:

The increasing availability of bagged prepared salad vegetables reflects consumer demand for fresh, healthy, convenient, and additive-free foods that are safe and nutritious. During May and June 2001 a study of retail bagged prepared ready-to-eat salad vegetables was undertaken to determine the microbiological quality of these vegetables. Examination of the salad vegetables revealed that the vast majority (3,826 of 3,852 samples; 99.3%) were of satisfactory or acceptable microbiological quality according to Public Health Laboratory Service microbiological guidelines, while 20 (0.5%) samples were of unsatisfactory microbiological quality. Unsatisfactory quality was due to Escherichia coli and Listeria spp. (not Listeria monocytogenes) levels in excess of 102 CFU/g. However, six (0.2%) samples were of unacceptable microbiological quality because of the presence of Salmonella (Salmonella Newport PT33 [one sample], Salmonella Umbilo [three samples], and Salmonella Durban [one sample]) or because of a L. monocytogenes level of 660 CFU/g, which indicates a health risk. In each case, the retailer involved and the UK Food Standards Agency were immediately informed, and full investigations were undertaken. Nineteen cases of Salmonella Newport PT33 infection were subsequently identified throughout England and Wales. The outbreak strain of Salmonella Newport PT33 isolated from the salad and from humans had a unique plasmid profile. Campylobacter spp. and E. coli O157 were not detected in any of the samples examined. The presence of Salmonella, as well as high levels of L. monocytogenes, is unacceptable. However, minimally processed cut and packaged salad is exposed to a range of conditions during growth, harvest, preparation, and distribution, and it is possible that these conditions may increase the potential for microbial contamination, highlighting the necessity for the implementation of good hygiene practices from farm to fork to prevent contamination and/or bacterial growth in these salad products.

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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Environmental Surveillance Unit, Public Health Laboratory Service, Communicable Disease Surveillance Centre, 61 Colindale Avenue, London NW9 5EQ, UK 2: Laboratory of Enteric Pathogens, Public Health Laboratory Service, Central Public Health Laboratory, 61 Colindale Avenue, London NW9 5HT, UK 3: Gastrointestinal Diseases Division, Public Health Laboratory Service, Communicable Disease Surveillance Centre, 61 Colindale Avenue, London NW9 5EQ, UK

Publication date: March 1, 2003

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