Microorganisms Of Concern

Harris et al. [8] extensively reviewed outbreaks associated with fresh produce and reported that the most common human pathogens associated with produce foodborne illness outbreaks are: E. coli O157:H7, Salmonella spp., Shigella spp., Listeria monocytogenes, Crytosporidium spp. [9], Cyclospora spp., Clostridium botulinum, hepatitis A virus, Norwalk virus, and Norwalk-like viruses. These microorganisms can be categorized as follows:

• Soil-associated pathogenic bacteria (Clostridium botulinum, Listeria monocytogenes).

• Feces-associated pathogenic bacteria (Salmonella spp., Shigella spp., E. coli O157:H7, and others).

• Pathogenic parasites (Cryptosporidium, Cyclospora).

• Pathogenic viruses (hepatitis A, enterovirus, Norwalk-like viruses).

Many of these pathogens are spread via a human (or domestic animal) to food to human transmission route. Handling of fruits and vegetables by infected field-workers or consumers, cross contamination, use of contaminated water, use of inadequately composted manure, or contact with contaminated soil are just a few of the ways that transmission of human pathogens to food can occur.

Data from the CDC foodborne outbreak surveillance system show that from 1988 to 1998 the two most commonly reported microorganisms associated with fresh produce foodborne illness outbreaks were Salmonella spp. and E. coli O157:H7 with 45% and 38% of the fruit and vegetable linked outbreaks, respectively, being attributed to these two microorganisms. However, recent foodborne illness outbreaks associated with produce consumption have been caused by viruses (hepatitis A) and parasites (Cyclospora spp.). CDC data demonstrate that the majority of reported foodborne illnesses in the U.S. are of unknown etiology and are most likely caused by viruses such as Norwalk-like viruses [10,11]. Unfortunately, diagnostic tools for detection and enumeration of viruses that may cause foodborne illnesses are severely lacking.

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