ABSTRACT

Foodborne diseases continue to represent an important threat to public health in many parts of the world and are particularly widespread in developing countries. They are essentially acquired through an oro-fecal route via the consumption of uncooked fruits and vegetables. This study evaluated the parasitological contamination of vegetables for sale to humans in Tunisian retail markets. A total of 240 samples of fresh vegetables were examined for helminth eggs and protozoan cysts and oocysts (collectively, (oo)cysts) contamination. The parasitic elements (helminth eggs and protozoan (oo)cysts) were concentrated by sucrose flotation and identified by microscopic examination. The molecular identification of Echinococcus granulosus eggs was carried out using PCR. Helminth eggs and protozoan (oo)cysts eggs were found in 12.5% of the unwashed vegetables, and the most common parasites observed in vegetables were coccidian oocysts (4.1%), Toxocara spp. (2.5%), hookworm (2.1%), and Taenia spp. (1.25%) eggs, followed by Pseudolimax butschlii (1.6%) and Entamoeba coli (1.6%) protozoan cysts. Furthermore, parasite contamination differed significantly from one city to another. Taeniid eggs were identified by PCR as E. granulosus sensu stricto (s.s.) (genotype G1). To our knowledge, this study highlights for the first time in Tunisia that fresh vegetables for sale in markets are contaminated with helminths and protozoan cysts, which are potentially pathogenic for humans. The control of these pathogens is in part a question of sanitary education, especially for retail vendors, and in part of improvement in hygiene measures throughout the food production chain, from the field to the consumer.

HIGHLIGHTS
  • This is the first report on parasitic contamination of vegetables in Tunisia.

  • Molecular identification of E. granulosus eggs was done using PCR.

  • Fresh vegetables for sale in retail markets are contaminated with helminths eggs and protozoan (oo)cysts.

  • Parasites were detected in 12.5% of unwashed vegetable samples.

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