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Identification of Biological Hazards in Produce Consumed in Industrialized Countries: A Review

Abstract

Microbial contamination of fresh produce (fresh fruits and vegetables) poses serious public health concerns worldwide. This study was conducted as a comprehensive analysis of biological hazards in the global fresh produce chain. Data about produce-related outbreaks and illness were collected from the annual reports and databases of foodborne outbreak surveillance systems in different regions and countries from 2010 to 2015. The global patterns of and regional differences in documented outbreaks and cases were analyzed, and produce commodities and pathogens of greatest concern were identified. Data on sporadic illnesses were also collected through a comprehensive literature review of case-control studies. We found 988 produce-related outbreaks (with known agents) and 45,723 cases in all regions and countries. The numbers of produce-related outbreaks per million person-years were approximately 0.76, 0.26, 0.25, 0.13, 0.12, and 0.05 in New Zealand, Australia, the United States, the European Union, Canada, and Japan, respectively. The top three food categories and pathogens contributing to produce-related outbreaks were vegetables and nonfruits (i.e., food other than fruits; 27.0%), unspecified vegetables (12.2%), and vegetable row crops (11.7%) and norovirus (42.4%), Salmonella enterica (19.9%), and Staphylococcus aureus (7.9%), respectively. Produce consumption was identified as a protective factor, a risk factor, and either a protective or risk factor for sporadic illnesses in 11, 5, and 5 studies, respectively, among 21 case-control studies. Risks associated with produce consumption in the United States and the European Union have been linked to various factors such as irrigation water, cross-contamination, storage time and temperature abuse, infected food handlers, and unprocessed contaminated ingredients. The results of the current study indicate the complexity of produce products consumed across the globe and the difficulty in tracing illnesses back to specific food ingredients.

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