Forty samples of fresh produce collected from retail food establishments were examined to determine the occurrence of Escherichia coli, F-specific coliphages, and noroviruses. An additional six samples were collected from a restaurant undergoing investigation for a norovirus outbreak. Nineteen (48%) of the retail samples and all outbreak samples were preprocessed (cut, shredded, chopped, or peeled) at or before the point of purchase. Reverse transcription–PCR, with the use of primers JV 12 and JV 13, failed to detect norovirus RNA in any of the samples. All six outbreak samples and 13 (33%) retail samples were positive for F-specific coliphages (odds ratio undefined, P = 0.003). Processed retail samples appeared more likely to contain F-specific coliphages than unprocessed samples (odds ratio 3.8; 95% confidence interval 0.8 to 20.0). Only two (5.0%) retail samples were positive for E. coli; outbreak samples were not tested for E. coli. The results of this preliminary survey suggest that F-specific coliphages could be useful conservative indicators of fecal contamination of produce and its associated virological risks. Large-scale surveys should be conducted to confirm these findings.

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