Food Standards Scotland (FSS) has published two research project reports investigating the survival of microbial contamination during the production of fresh produce and the effectiveness of controls to minimise the risk to the consumer.
The first project was commissioned in response to an outbreak of E. coli O157 in Great Britain during 2011, associated with the handling and consumption of soil covered vegetables and simulated a ‘worst case scenario’ contamination event occurring to growing crops a week prior to harvest. The research showed that the commercial processes used to clean, prepare and store vegetables did reduce contamination, however in the unlikely event of a large crop contamination occurring close to harvest, some contamination may remain.
The second project was commissioned as a result of an E. coli O104 outbreak in Europe in 2011, where consumption of sprouts grown from contaminated seeds was associated with illness. FSS investigated four different treatments that could be used to reduce contamination when sprouting seeds at home. A hot water (90°C for 2 minutes) treatment was found to be the most effective, although it was not 100% effective when the seeds were heavily contaminated.
The findings from both of these projects will be used by FSS to inform future risk assessments and food safety advice in relation to fresh produce.
FSS advises good food hygiene practices in the kitchen, especially with fresh produce that tends to have more soil attached to it.