Consumption of locally, organically grown produce is increasing in popularity. Organic farms typically produce on a small scale, have limited resources, and adopt low technology harvest and postharvest handling practices. Data on the food safety risk associated with hand harvesting, field packing, and packing-house handling with minimal treatment, at this production scale, are lacking. We followed produce from small organic farms from the field through postharvest handling and packing. Pre- and postharvest produce (177 samples) and water (29 samples) were collected and analyzed quantitatively for Escherichia coli, total coliforms (TC), aerobic bacteria (APC), yeasts, molds (M), and enteric pathogens. No pathogens were recovered. E. coli was detected in 3 (3.6%) of 83 preharvest produce samples, 2 (6.3%) of 32 unwashed and 0 of 42 washed postharvest produce samples, and 10 (34.5%) of 29 water samples. No correlation was found between bacterial levels in irrigation water and those on produce. Postharvest handling without washing was a factor for APC and M counts on tomatoes, with lower frequencies postharvest. Postharvest handling with washing was a factor for leafy greens for TC counts, with higher frequencies postharvest. APC (P = 0.03) and yeast (P = 0.05) counts were higher in preharvest than in unwashed postharvest tomatoes. Washed postharvest leafy greens had higher M counts (P = 0.03) and other washed produce had higher TC counts (P = 0.01) than did their preharvest counterparts. Barriers were found to the use of sanitizer in wash water for leafy greens among small farms using organic practices. Hand harvesting and dry handling did not appear to be associated with a significant food safety risk, but washed leafy greens carried higher levels of some microbial indicators, possibly because of the lack of sanitizer in the wash water. The development of resources and materials customized for this sector of growers could enhance dissemination of information on best practices for handling of leafy greens.
Comparing the Microbiological Status of Pre- and Postharvest Produce from Small Organic Production
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AIXIA XU, DONNA M. PAHL, ROBERT L. BUCHANAN, SHIRLEY A. MICALLEF; Comparing the Microbiological Status of Pre- and Postharvest Produce from Small Organic Production. J Food Prot 1 June 2015; 78 (6): 1072–1080. doi: https://doi.org/10.4315/0362-028X.JFP-14-548
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