The microbiological quality of ready-to-eat (RTE) foods from school cafeterias in Chongqing, China, was evaluated in comparison to a guideline published by a provincial health commission. Based on their preparation processes and potential risks, the RTE foods were divided into 5 types: food type 1, general cooked and hot-held foods; food type 2, cooked meats; food type 3, heated aquatic products; food type 4, fresh fruit/vegetables; and food type 5, cooked foods with post-cook processes (e.g. cut, cool, addition of ingredients/condiments, etc.). Food type 1-3 (subjected to thermal processes, and hot-held) were microbiologically safer than type 4 and 5 (prepared by non-thermal process or post-cook processes). None of the samples in food type 1-3 were unsatisfactory for aerobic plate counts (APC) and total coliforms (TC), whereas 43.1% of food type 4, 8.3% and 71.7% of type 5 samples were unsatisfactory due to high counts of TC, APC, and TC, respectively. Two, 12, and 50 samples from type 2, 4, and 5, respectively, were unacceptable due to high levels of Staphylococcus aureus . Bacillus cereus and Vibrio parahaemolyticus were detected but under the satisfactory limits. None of the samples tested positive for Salmonella , Listeria monocytogenes , and Escherichia coli O157. The collected data of the bacterial profile can be used by policymakers and epidemiologists in microbiological risk assessments, which may be conducive to develop interventions to control the hazards, improve food hygiene, and safety management systems for school cafeterias in China.

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