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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Title: Male-Specific Coliphages As Fecal Contamination Indicators for Screening Vegetable Produce

Authors
item Endley, Seema - TX A&M UNIVERSITY
item Lu, Lingeng - TX A&M UNIVERSITY
item Vega, Everardo - TX A&M UNIVERSITY
item Hume, Michael
item Pillai, Suresh - TX A&M UNIVERSITY

Submitted to: Journal of Food Protection
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: August 18, 2002
Publication Date: January 20, 2003
Citation: Endley, S., Lu, L., Vega, E., Hume, M.E., Pillai, S.D. 2003. Male-specific coliphages as fecal contamination indicators for screening vegetable produce. Journal of Food Protection. 66:88-93.

Interpretive Summary: The objective of this study was to evaluate the efficacy of bacteria-killing viruses as a fecal-contamination indicator for fresh carrot samples obtained from a farm, truck, and processing shed. Twenty-five carrot samples collected from each of these locations were washed, and portions of the wash were analyzed for the presence of the viruses and fecal bacteria. Results suggested that bacteria-killing viruses can serve as a conservative indicator of fecal bacteria contamination of carrots. Results further indicated that screening for indicator viruses should be included when screening produce such as carrots for fecal contaminants. Screening for bacteria-killing viral indicators of fecal contamination can be an economical approach to providing an additional level of assurance about the microbiological quality of fresh carrots.

Technical Abstract: The objective of this study was to evaluate the efficacy of male-specific (F+) coliphages as a fecal-contamination indicator for fresh carrots. The prevalence of specific pathogens and indicator organisms on the surface of carrots obtained from a farm, truck, and processing shed was studied. Twenty-five carrot samples collected from each of these locations were washed, and aliquots of the wash were analyzed for the presence of F+ coliphages, Escherichia coli, Salmonella, and Shigella. Additionally, the Salmonella isolates were genotyped using pulsed-field gel electrophoresis (PFGE). Our studies detected the presence of F+ coliphages, E. coli, and Salmonella on carrots. All samples, however, tested negative for Shigella. Although none of the carrot samples from the field were positive for E. coli, one sample was positive for Salmonella, and another was positive for F+ coliphages. From the truck, two carrot samples (8%) were positive for Salmonella, four (16%) were positive for F+ coliphages, and four (16%) were positive for E. coli. None of the carrot samples from the processing shed were positive for Salmonella. However, 2 carrot samples (8%) were positive for E. coli, and 14 carrot samples (56%) were positive for F+ coliphages. The PFGE results suggest that there were three distinct Salmonella genotypes among the carrot samples from the truck and that the Salmonella isolates identified on carrot samples from the field and truck locations were different. Microbiological screening of fresh produce such as carrots (which can be exposed to fecal contaminants in soils and water) should ensure the detection of both viral and bacterial contaminants. Overall, in this study, F+ coliphages were detected in 25% of the carrot samples, compared to E. coli (8%), Salmonella (4%), and Shigella (0%). The results suggest F+ coliphages can serve as a conservative indicator of fecally associated viruses on carrots. This suggests that in addition to E. coli screening, F+ coliphages should be included when produce such as carrots that are vulnerable to fecal contaminants are screened. Since the detection of specific enteric viral pathogens is expensive, screening for viral indicators of fecal contamination using F+ coliphages can be an economical approach to providing an additional level of assurance about the microbiological quality of fresh carrots.

Last Modified: 8/22/2014
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