On many types of raw or minimally processed foods, the bacterial microbiota is often composed of mixed species. The activities of one bacterial species may influence the growth and activities of others that are present. The objective of this project was to evaluate the microbial composition of fresh and minimally processed vegetables to determine if naturally occurring bacteria on produce are competitive with or antagonistic to potentially encountered pathogens. Naturally occurring bacteria were obtained from ready-to-eat salad vegetables on four occasions to allow for seasonal variation. Minimally processed vegetables were sampled at various stages in their processing from raw vegetables to packaged products. Some portions were analyzed microbiologically within 24 h, while other portions were stored refrigerated and analyzed after 72 h. Microbiological analysis was conducted for bacterial enumeration and to obtain isolates. An agar spot method was used to screen isolates for antimicrobial activity against Staphylococcus aureus ATCC 27664, Escherichia coli O157:H7 E009, Listeria monocytogenes LCDC 81–861, and Salmonella Montevideo. Of the 1,180 isolates screened for inhibitory activity, 37 (3.22%) were found to have various degrees of inhibitory activity against at least one test pathogen. Many isolates showed inhibitory activity against all four pathogens. The isolates with the most extensive inhibition were removed from finished lettuce piece shreds. Of the 37 inhibitory isolates, 34 (91.9%) were gram negative. All isolates with inhibitory activity are able to multiply at both 4 and 10°C.

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