Microbiological analyses of fresh fruits and vegetables produced by organic and conventional farmers in Minnesota were conducted to determine the coliform count and the prevalence of Escherichia coli, Salmonella, and E. coli O157:H7. A total of 476 and 129 produce samples were collected from 32 organic and 8 conventional farms, respectively. The samples included tomatoes, leafy greens, lettuce, green peppers, cabbage, cucumbers, broccoli, strawberries, apples, and seven other types of produce. The numbers of fruits and vegetables was influenced by their availability at participating farms and varied from 11 strawberry samples to 108 tomato samples. Among the organic farms, eight were certified by accredited agencies and the rest reported the use of organic practices. All organic farms used aged or composted animal manure as fertilizer. The average coliform counts in both organic and conventional produce were 2.9 log most probable number per g. The percentages of E. coli–positive samples in conventional and organic produce were 1.6 and 9.7%, respectively. However, the E. coli prevalence in certified organic produce was 4.3%, a level not statistically different from that in conventional samples. Organic lettuce had the largest prevalence of E. coli (22.4%) compared with other produce types. Organic samples from farms that used manure or compost aged less than 12 months had a prevalence of E. coli 19 times greater than that of farms that used older materials. Serotype O157:H7 was not detected in any produce samples, but Salmonella was isolated from one organic lettuce and one organic green pepper. These results provide the first microbiological assessment of organic fruits and vegetables at the farm level.

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Author notes

Present address: 1124 County Road 38, Bainbridge, NY 13733, USA.