According to the 2014 Zoonosis Monitoring Report (1), the majority of verified outbreaks in the EU were associated with foodstuffs of animal origin. Fruit and vegetables were implicated in only 7,1 % of the verified outbreaks, primarily caused by frozen raspberries contaminated with Norovirus, albeit showing an increase compared to 2013 where ‘vegetables and juices’ were reported in 4,4 % of the outbreaks.
Nevertheless, the possible consequences of microbiological contamination of fresh fruits and vegetables (FFV) cannot be underestimated as shown by the German crisis (2) linked to the contamination of sprouts by Verotoxin-producing Escherichia coli (VTEC).In the aftermath of this VTEC crisis in 2011, the Commission asked the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) to advice on the public health risks posed by pathogens in food of non-animal origin (FNAO), addressing in particular the risk factors and the mitigation options including possible microbiological criteria.
As a result, EFSA issued six scientific opinions on the following food/pathogen combinations identified as the most important risks within FNAO:
1) VTEC in seeds and sprouted seeds
(2) Salmonella and Norovirus in food of leafy greens eaten raw as salads.
(3) Salmonella and Norovirus in berries.
(4) Salmonella and Norovirus in tomatoes.
(5) Salmonella in melons.
(6) Salmonella, Yersinia, Shigella and Norovirus in bulb and stem vegetables, and carrots.
This guideline takes account of the relevant opinions of EFSA, and consultation with Member States experts and relevant stakeholders. Though it is intended to offer practical help to growers, it may also be used by official inspectors during their audits where appropriate. EFSA confirmed that further research on possible risks and risk mitigating measures related to FFV should continue.