Bacteria and leafy greens are studied

Sept. 5, 2007 at 11:13 AM
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ALBANY, Calif., Sept. 5 (UPI) -- U.S. scientists said the increasing popularity of fresh leafy greens such as lettuce and spinach is increasing the difficulty of keeping them bacteria-free.

"The only land suitable for supplying this abundance of year-round, high-quality, fresh, leafy vegetables -- which are eaten raw by large populations in Europe and the United States -- is in special geographic regions, with ideal soil and climate conditions", said Robert Mandrell of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Western Regional Research Center in Albany, Calif.

Mandrell said the year-round demand has required new methods to rapidly clean, package and deliver the fragile food items across great distances.

Although new methods of harvesting, processing and packaging have been created, scientists said at least some recent food poisoning bacteria outbreaks have been due to field contamination before the greens are harvested.

"This situation complicates strategies for eliminating illnesses and outbreaks due to the complex ecosystem of multiple potential sources … all of which could be sources of bacteria causing food poisoning," said Mandrell.

He presented his research into recent E. coli outbreaks in fresh produce this week at the University of Edinburgh during the 161st meeting of the Society for General Microbiology.

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