A new study by Ihab Habib, Rami H Al-Rifai, Mohamed-Yousif Ibrahim Mohamed, Akela Ghazawi, Afra Abdalla, Glindya Lakshmi, Neveen Agamy and Mushtaq Khan investigates the counts, antimicrobial resistance profile, and genome-based characterization of Escherichia coli in 11 different types of fresh salad vegetable products (n = 400) sampled from retailers in Abu Dhabi and Dubai in the United Arab Emirates.
E. coli was detected in 30% of the tested fresh salad vegetable items, with 26.5% of the samples having an unsatisfactory level (≥100 CFU/g) of E. coli, notably arugula and spinach. The study also assessed the effect of the variability in sample conditions on E. coli counts and found, based on negative binominal regression analysis, that samples from local produce had a significantly higher (p-value < 0.001) E. coli count than imported samples.
The analysis also indicated that fresh salad vegetables from the soil-less farming system (e.g., hydroponic and aeroponic) had significantly (p-value < 0.001) fewer E. coli than those from traditional produce farming. The study also examined the antimicrobial resistance in E. coli (n = 145) recovered from fresh salad vegetables and found that isolates exhibited the highest phenotypic resistance toward ampicillin (20.68%), tetracycline (20%), and trimethoprim-sulfamethoxazole (10.35%).
A total of 20 (13.79%) of the 145 E. coli isolates exhibited a multidrug-resistant phenotype, all from locally sourced leafy salad vegetables. The study further characterized 18 of the 20 multidrug-resistant E. coli isolates using whole-genome sequencing and found that the isolates had varying numbers of virulence-related genes, ranging from 8 to 25 per isolate. The frequently observed genes likely involved in extra-intestinal infection were CsgA, FimH, iss, and afaA. The β-lactamases gene blaCTX-M-15 was prevalent in 50% (9/18) of the E. coli isolates identified from leafy salad vegetable samples.
The study highlights the potential risk of foodborne illness and the likely spread of antimicrobial resistance and resistance genes associated with consuming leafy salad vegetables. It emphasizes the importance of proper food safety practices, including appropriate storage and handling of fresh produce.
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