Research – Repeated cross-sectional study identifies differing risk factors associated with microbial contamination in common food products in the United Kingdom

Science Direct


All foods carry microbes, many of which are harmless, but foods can also carry pathogens and/or microbial indicators of contamination. Limited information exists on the co-occurrence of microbes of food safety concern and the factors associated with their presence. Here, a population-based repeated cross-sectional design was used to determine the prevalence and co-occurrence of Escherichia coli, Klebsiella spp., Salmonella spp. and Vibrio spp. in key food commodities – chicken, pork, prawns, salmon and leafy greens. Prevalence in 1,369 food samples for these four target bacterial genera/species varied, while 25.6% of all samples had at least two of the target bacteria and eight different combinations of bacteria were observed as co-occurrence profiles in raw prawns. Imported frozen chicken was 6.4 times more likely to contain Salmonella than domestic chicken, and imported salmon was 5.5 times more likely to be contaminated with E. coli. Seasonality was significantly associated with E. coli and Klebsiella spp. contamination in leafy greens, with higher detection in summer and autumn. Moreover, the odds of Klebsiella spp. contamination were higher in summer in chicken and pork samples. These results provide insight on the bacterial species present on foods at retail, and identify factors associated with the presence of individual bacteria, which are highly relevant for food safety risk assessments and the design of surveillance programmes.

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