ABSTRACT

This study evaluated the potential impact of environmental factors and harvesting practices on the microbial load of macadamia nuts. Three farms located in primary macadamia nut production regions, the Mbombela (A), Barberton (B) and White River (C) areas in Mpumalanga Province, South Africa, were sampled over a 2-year period. A total of 264 irrigation water (54), soil (30), and macadamia nut (180) samples were collected and evaluated for microbial load. All water samples had mean Escherichia coli loads below 1,000 MPN/100 mL, which is the standard regulatory requirement for agricultural water considered fit for irrigation in South Africa. Mean total aerobic plate counts of nut-in-husk on-tree samples (3.91 log CFU/g; n = 60) were higher after harvesting (5.98 log CFU/g; n = 60) but were lower after dehusking (to 4.89 log CFU/g; n = 60) on nut-in-shell samples. Salmonella spp. were only detected in water samples from farm B (67%; n = 18) and farm C (15%; n = 18). Neither Listeria monocytogenes nor Salmonella spp. were detected in the soil samples. E. coli was only detected in 20% (n = 10) of soil samples collected from two farms (farms A and B). None of the E. coli isolated in this study was positive for the eae, stx1, and stx2 enterohemorrhagic E. coli virulence genes. This study provides basic data that can be used in the development of macadamia nut–specific hazard assessment tools within primary production environments.

HIGHLIGHTS
  • Salmonella spp. and nonpathogenic E. coli are prevalent in macadamia nut irrigation water.

  • Microbial loads of macadamia nuts increase with harvesting.

  • Irrigation water is more likely to harbor Salmonella spp. than soil or nuts.

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