Fruit & Vegetable Magazine

Features Production Research
Food safety begins as vegetables grow


May 13, 2008
By Fruit & Vegetable

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Farmers interested in preventing contamination of fresh produce with harmful bacteria such as E. coli  and Salmonella,
should be monitoring their produce while it is still growing in the
field, according to members of the American Phytopathological Society
(APS).

Farmers interested in preventing contamination of fresh produce with harmful bacteria such as E. coli  and Salmonella, should be monitoring their produce while it is still growing in the field, according to members of the American Phytopathological Society (APS).

“What we’ve found up to this point is that most contamination is occurring while the plants are still growing in the field,” says Jeri D. Barak, a research microbiologist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service (ARS). “The most successful way to prevent contamination of fresh produce is to intervene before the harvest, not after.”

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Her research has shown that pathogens, like Salmonella use specific genes to colonize plants, creating an active interaction with the plant surface. “When this happens, the bacteria become almost inseparable from the vegetable,” she says.

There have been outbreaks of E. coli and Salmonella for at least the past decade, and the incidences of vegetable contamination are increasing in frequency. “We’ve studied plant pathogens on plants for a long time, but haven’t studied human pathogens on plants until recently,” says Barak.

Experts from across North America recently gathered in California to present their latest food safety research findings during a symposium entitled “Cross Domain: Emerging Threats to Plants, Humans, and Our Food Supply.” They also discussed the environmental biology of bacteria in fresh produce and the link between plants and bacteria associated with human infections, such as the recent E. coli outbreaks from California spinach.


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