Research – Microbial Load of Fresh Blueberries Harvested by Different Methods



Currently, more and more growers are transitioning to the use of over-the-row machine harvesters for harvesting fresh market blueberries. This study assessed the microbial load of fresh blueberries harvested by different methods. Samples (n = 336) of ‘Draper’ and ‘Liberty’ northern highbush blueberries, which were harvested using a conventional over-the-row machine harvester, a modified machine harvester prototype, ungloved but sanitized hands, and hands wearing sterile gloves were collected from a blueberry farm near Lynden, WA, in the Pacific Northwest at 9 am, 12 noon, and 3 pm on four different harvest days during the 2019 harvest season. Eight replicates of each sample were collected at each sampling point and evaluated for the populations of total aerobes (TA), total yeasts and molds (YM), and total coliforms (TC), as well as for the incidence of fecal coliforms and enterococci. The harvest method was a significant factor (p < 0.05) influencing the TA and TC counts, the harvest time was a significant factor influencing the YM counts, while the blueberry cultivar was an insignificant (p > 0.05) factor for all three indicator microorganisms. These results suggest that effective harvester cleaning methods should be developed to prevent fresh blueberry contamination by microorganisms. This research will likely benefit blueberry and other fresh fruit producers.

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