Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Food Bugs Flood Farmers’ Markets


Tabloid Tuesday

  • Salmonella and E. coli found in foods sold at Farmers’ markets

  • Unacceptably high levels of E. coli found in fresh produce, US study finds

  • Many more bacteria detected indicating possible faecal contamination

E. coli contamination of so-called fresh herbs at a farmer’s market was found to be at “unsatisfactory” levels, according to a recently published US study. They found E. coli contamination in 20-27% of the herbs, and 12% had levels of contamination deemed unsafe by US Public Health Laboratory Service. The study comes months after the discovery of Campylobacter, another food poisoning bug, was found in 50-70% of chickens across the UK and Ireland.

Researchers from Chapman University and the University of Washington took 133 herb samples from 49 vendors across 13 different markets in Los Angeles and Orange County, California. Co-author of the study, Dr Rosalee Hellberg, explained “Certain herbs such as parsley, basil and cilantro have been implicated in many food outbreaks over the past two decades so our study focused specifically on the safety and quality of these three herbs.”

The significance of the finding, which also discovered Salmonella in one sample, implies that the foods were exposed to a faecal contamination. This is not unusual on farms where manure is used as fertiliser, however it raises the question as to how clean these foods are when sold by the farmers themselves.

Dr Hellberg went on to criticise the lack of hygiene standards with food sold at farmers’ markets, saying “While farmers’ markets can become certified to ensure that each farmer is actually growing the commodities being sold, food safety is not addressed as part of the certification process.”

Salmonella and some E. coli strains can cause food poisoning if eaten. Symptoms include nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, cramps, and fever – which may last up to three days. Critically, this study failed to identify if the E. coli strains found in the contaminated foods were ever linked to food poisoning previously.


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