ABSTRACT

Grocery stores handle fresh produce in large quantities daily. According to the Food and Drug Administration Food Code, food is to be stored at least 15 cm above the floor, and all foods shall be protected from any source of contamination or otherwise discarded. It is reported in the literature that dropped produce could be a potential source of microbial contamination. Both consumers and employees often drop produce on the floor and then place it back into a display case or bin, which could potentially serve as a source of contamination. This study aims to determine the bacterial transfer rate on different produce types when dropped for various contact times onto floor surfaces contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes. Apples, peaches, and romaine lettuce were dropped separately onto carpet and tile surfaces from a distance of 1 m and held for 5 s, 1 min, 10 min, 1 h, and 4 h. Results showed that transfer from all produce types occurred from both the carpet (10.56%) and tile (3.65%) surfaces. Still, percent transfer was not statistically significant among different times used in this study (P > 0.05). Dropped romaine lettuce had the most transfer (28.97%) from both the surfaces combined, followed by apples (8.80%) and peaches (7.32%) with minimal transfer. Even with a low transfer level, grocery stores should include signage to alert consumers not to pick up dropped produce and should train their employees accordingly.

HIGHLIGHTS
  • Percent transfer of bacteria on dropped fresh produce was investigated.

  • 5-s drop treatment had a significant transfer rate (25% from carpet).

  • Higher transfer was observed on lettuce from the contaminated carpet mat surface.

  • Dropped produce, if put back on shelves, could pose a food safety risk.

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