Produce Contamination

Contamination of fruits and vegetables by human pathogens can occur anywhere in the farm to table continuum including contamination of seed stocks and during production, harvesting, postharvest handling, storage, processing, transport distribution, retail display, and/or preparation (foodservice or home). Produce contaminated with human pathogens cannot be completely disinfected by washing or rinsing the product in an aqueous solution, and low sporadic levels of human pathogens can be found on produce [2,3]. In 2004 the Alliance for Food and Farming [4] analyzed Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) data sets [5,6] and summarized information regarding foodborne illness outbreaks that have been associated with produce consumption. The study's objective was to analyze likely sources of produce contamination and categorize the most likely place that the contamination occurred, that being either during production/ growing or during postproduction handling. The "postproduction" category included produce-associated foodborne illnesses that were most likely due to improper handling at the foodservice, retail, or consumer level, while the "grower" category included foodborne illnesses associated with produce that were most likely attributable to the farm, packing, shipping, or other agricultural postharvest handling. Analysis of CDC data indicated that improper handling of fruits and vegetables at foodservice establishments or by consumers caused 83% of produce-associated foodborne illness outbreaks, while "grower"-implicated cases comprised 17% of produce-associated

FIGURE 1.1 Produce-associated outbreaks due to suspected farm contamination versus postproduction handling. (Adapted from Analysis of Produce Related Foodborne Illness Outbreaks, Alliance for Food and Farming, April 2004, www.foodandfarming.info/ documents/85876_produce_analysis_604.pdf.)

FIGURE 1.1 Produce-associated outbreaks due to suspected farm contamination versus postproduction handling. (Adapted from Analysis of Produce Related Foodborne Illness Outbreaks, Alliance for Food and Farming, April 2004, www.foodandfarming.info/ documents/85876_produce_analysis_604.pdf.)

foodborne illness outbreaks. Data from this report presented in Figure 1.1 show that the percentage of "grower"-related contamination incidents as a percent of all produce related outbreaks has been declining since 1996, and this trend is most likely due to implementation of good agricultural practices (GAPs) by grower/shipper/packers.

The Alliance for Food and Farming 2004 report and the CDC [7] both indicate that about 12% of foodborne illnesses occurring in the U.S. between 1990 and 2001 has been associated with consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables. This figure of 12% of outbreak cases associated with produce consumption represents a greater proportion of foodborne illness burden being represented by fresh fruits and vegetables than was reported in the past (Table 1.1). CDC data also indicate that produce-related outbreaks have become larger, involving more individuals and increasing in frequency. Foodborne illness outbreak reports related to produce consumption have most likely increased due to:

• Better detection and diagnostic methods for human pathogens which can epidemiologically associate produce consumption with illness (PulseNet, SODA salmonella outbreak detection algorithm, etc.).

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