Research – Microbiological Quality of Ready-to-Eat Salad Products Collected from Retail and Catering Settings in England during 2020 to 2021

Journal of Food Protection

ABSTRACT

Salad and other fresh produce were collected in England from retail and catering businesses during 2020 to 2021 and were tested for Salmonella, Shiga toxin–producing Escherichia coli (STEC), Listeria, Bacillus cereus, and E. coli. Of the 604 samples collected, 57% were from retail settings and 43% were from catering settings; 61% were either salad leaves or salad leaves mixed with other products.

Equal numbers of samples were prepacked or loose, and 50% were refrigerated at the time of sampling. Combining results for all microbiological parameters, 84% were interpreted as satisfactory, 12% were interpreted as borderline, and 4% were interpreted as unsatisfactory. One sample (prepacked leaves, cucumber, and tomato from a caterer) was categorized as unacceptable and potentially injurious because of detection of STEC O76; no STEC from human infections in the United Kingdom matched this isolate.

No Salmonella enterica was detected, but Listeria monocytogenes was recovered from 11 samples: 1 at 20 CFU/g and the remainder at <20 CFU/g. B. cereus was detected at borderline levels (103 to ≤105 CFU/g) in 9% of samples and at an unsatisfactory level (>105 CFU/g) in one sample. E. coli was detected in 3% of samples at borderline levels (20 to ≤102 CFU/g) and in 4% at unsatisfactory levels (>102 CFU/g).

There was a significant association between detection of L. monocytogenes and borderline or unsatisfactory levels of E. coli. There were no specific risk profiles associated with products with the higher levels of B. cereus, STEC, or Listeria, but elevated levels of E. coli were predominantly confined to loose products from the United Kingdom collected from caterers in summer or autumn 2021 and may have resulted from relaxation of COVID-19 restrictions. Among the L. monocytogenes isolates, only one matched those from human cases and was recovered from a prepacked mixed salad from a catering business in 2021. This isolate was the same strain as that responsible for a multicountry outbreak (2015 to 2018) associated with Hungarian-produced frozen sweet corn; no link to the outbreak food chain was established.

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