Fresh fruit and vegetables as vehicles for the transmission of human pathogens.
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Summary Much research into food-borne human pathogens has focused on transmission from foods of animal origin. However, recent investigations have identified fruits and vegetables are the source of many disease outbreaks. Now believed to be a much larger contributor to produce-associated outbreaks than previously reported, norovirus outbreaks are commonly caused by contamination of foods from hands of infected workers. Although infections with Shiga toxin-producing E. coli O157 have been linked to beef more often than to any other food product, severe outbreaks have been traced to consumption of contaminated radish sprouts and pre-packaged spinach. Similarly, while infections with Salmonella have mainly been linked to consumption of foods of animal origin, many outbreaks have been traced to contaminated fresh produce. E. coli O157 binds to lettuce leaves by alternative mechanisms involving the filamentous type III secretions system, flagella and the pilus curli. Association of Salmonella with fresh produce appears to be serovar-specific involving flagella, curli, cellulose, and O antigen capsule. A better understanding of plant, microbiological, environmental, processing and food handling factors that facilitate contamination will allow development of evidence-based policies, procedures and technologies aimed at reducing the risk of contamination of fresh produce.