The presence of numerous genera of spoilage bacteria, yeasts and molds, and an occasional pathogen on fresh produce has been recognized for many years. Several outbreaks of human gastroenteritis have been linked to the consumption of contaminated fresh vegetables and, to a lesser extent, fruits. Salads containing raw vegetables have been identified as vehicles of traveler's diarrhea, an illness sometimes experienced by visitors to developing countries. Enterotoxigenic Escherichia coli is the most common cause of this illness. Enterohemorrhagic E. coli, specifically serotype O157:H7, has been implicated as the causative agent in an outbreak of gastroenteritis resulting from the consumption of cantaloupes. Outbreaks of salmonellosis in humans have been attributed to consumption of contaminated tomatoes, mustard cress, bean sprouts, cantaloupe, and watermelon. An onion-associated outbreak of Shigella flexneri gastroenteritis has recently been reported in the United States. Outbreaks of human listeriosis have been epidemiologically linked to the consumption of fresh cabbage and lettuce. Gastrointestinal illness caused by the consumption of raw vegetable seed sprouts contaminated by Bacillus cereus has been documented. The ability of Aeromonas hydrophila and Aeromonas sobria to produce several virulence factors has been documented and their fairly common occurrence in water raises concern over public health risks that may be associated with the consumption of salad vegetables, although their role as agents in foodborne illness has not been fully confirmed. Viruses are not likely to grow on contaminated vegetables and fruits but can survive long enough to cause life-threatening illness in humans. An increased per capita consumption of fresh and lightly processed produce in the United States and other countries, coupled with an increase in importation of produce to these countries from regions where standards for growing and handling produce may be compromised, has resulted in heightened interest in outbreaks of human gastroenteritis that may be attributed to contaminated fresh produce, particularly salad vegetables. Likewise methods of handling, processing, packaging, and distribution of fresh produce on a regional or local scale within countries are receiving attention in terms of identifying and controlling microbiological hazards. Hazard analysis critical control point (HACCP) programs are being developed in an effort to minimize the risk of illness associated with consumption of fresh produce. Examples of pathogenic microorganisms associated with fresh produce as well as procedures that can be used to reduce their incidence at the point of consumption are discussed.

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