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Quantification of pathogen cross-contamination during fresh and fresh-cut produce handling in a simulated foodservice environment

1 Conrad N. Hilton College of Hotel and Restaurant Management, University of Houston, Houston, TX 77204-3028, USA
2 Dale Bumpers College of Agricultural, Food and Life Sciences, University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, AR 72704, USA

Topical Sections: Food microbiology and food safety

Fresh and fresh-cut produce are associated with a significant proportion of foodborne disease outbreaks, driving the need for proper food handling that mitigates the risk of pathogen spread in foodservice environments. The objective of this study was to investigate cross-contamination patterns resulting from preparing these foods. For the first part of the study, forty-five participants simulated preparing fresh and fresh-cut produce in a mock deli kitchen in three scenarios. Produce or participant hands were coated with an innocuous fluorescent compound (Glo Germ™), then, following the simulations, high touch areas were swabbed to quantify cross-contamination. For scenarios 1–3, the cutting board, leafy greens, and participant gloves had the highest log10 percent of fluorescent compound (1.81, 1.31, 1.48, respectively). These results reinforce the need to properly sanitize kitchen equipment and to properly wash hands to reduce the likelihood of spreading harmful microorganisms. For the second part of the study, microbial experiments were conducted in a BSL-2 laboratory with two scenarios to determine how and to what extent Listeria monocytogenes, E.coli O157:H7, and Salmonella spp. spread from handling dip inoculated fresh and fresh-cut produce. Findings showed the propensity for pathogen harborage in utensils and wash water in scenario one. E.coli O157:H7 counts increased 33% from the inoculated lettuce sample to a second sample soaked in the same ice bath. By identifying and quantifying cross-contamination outcomes from food preparation, researchers can design task-specific educational materials that improve work flows which may reduce the risk of foodborne disease outbreaks.
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