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Wash-resistant bacteria taint foods.

Foodborne microbes trigger some 81 million cases of disease in the United States each year, according to the General Accounting Office (GAO), an investigative arm of Congress. Moms--and the Food and Drug Administration--have long advocated washing fresh fruits and vegetables to evict any germs they harbor. However, it takes more than simple washing to eliminate all of the bacteria, new studies find.

Elizabeth Ehrenfeld of IDEXX Labs, a diagnostic testing Diagnostic testing
Testing performed to determine if someone is affected with a particular disease.

Mentioned in: Von Willebrand Disease
 service in Westbrook, Maine, examined 39 samples of fresh bean sprouts, all purchased from local grocers. On average, each gram of sprouts hosted more than 10 million coliform bacteria coliform bacteria

Rod-shaped bacteria usually found in the intestinal tracts of animals, including humans. Coliform bacteria do not require but can use oxygen, and they do not form spores. They produce acid and gas from the fermentation of lactose sugar.
, she reported last week at an American Society for Microbiology The American Society for Microbiology (ASM) is a scientific organization, based in the United States although with over 43,000 members throughout the world. It is the largest single life science professional organization and its members include those whose interests encompass basic  meeting in Atlanta. Though not usually posing a disease risk themselves, these bacteria, also present in soil, point to the potential for coincident contamination of crops with pathogens that might be present in fresh manure or human feces. Both are common crop fertilizers throughout much of the world.

Moreover, Ehrenfeld found that 10 samples of the fresh sprouts harbored E. coli--some with around 7,000 of the bacteria per gram. The presence of such fecal bacteria indicates that the samples were tainted by dirty hands during harvesting or distribution, she says.

"The surprise for me," she told Science News, "was that washing the sprouts did not drop the bacterial counts very much." After depositing up to 100 million E. coli E. coli: see Escherichia coli.
E. coli
 in full Escherichia coli

Species of bacterium that inhabits the stomach and intestines. E. coli can be transmitted by water, milk, food, or flies and other insects.
 or Salmonella on bacteriafree sprouts, she washed them three times in clean water. While this reduced the bacterial population, it still left up to 1 million microbes per gram of food--many thousands of times the number needed to sicken someone with a weakened immune system immune system

Cells, cell products, organs, and structures of the body involved in the detection and destruction of foreign invaders, such as bacteria, viruses, and cancer cells. Immunity is based on the system's ability to launch a defense against such invaders.

At the meeting, John Lopes of Microcide in Troy, Mich., reported finding an average of 63,000 Listeria Listeria /Lis·te·ria/ (lis-ter´e-ah) a genus of gram-negative bacteria (family Corynebacterium); L. monocyto´genes causes listeriosis.

 and Aeromonas bacteria per gram of cauliflower from local groceries and 16 million per gram of radish. The bacteria detected do not cause human disease, but their presence shows that these foods can harbor live bacteria encountered in food handling--including deadly forms of Listeria.

Contributing to the problem of tainted foods, an April 30 GAO report argues, is the increasing share of U.S. produce coming from countries without strict laws governing hygiene in food production and handling. Though federal law bans the importation of meat from nations without food safety systems equivalent to those in the United States, no similar prohibition exists for other foods.

Lacking resources to inspect even 2 percent of nonmeat imports, FDA FDA
Food and Drug Administration

FDA, See Food and Drug Administration.

FDA, the abbreviation for the Food and Drug Administration.
 cannot be relied upon to keep pathogen-tainted products out of the U.S. food supply, the GAO report concludes.

Taken together, these data are fueling the development of antimicrobial agents safe enough for kitchen use on foods.

Susan S. Sumner of Virginia Polytechnic Institute in Blacksburg finds that washing tainted produce with water "is better than doing nothing--but not a whole lot better." Later this year, however, she and graduate student Jim Wright plan to report that they can infect apples with a deadly strain of E. coli at a concentration of 10,000 bacteria per grain, then eliminate them all by dipping the fruit in a nontoxic mix of vinegar and off-the-shelf hydrogen peroxide. This E. coli, known as O157:H7, has been implicated im·pli·cate  
tr.v. im·pli·cat·ed, im·pli·cat·ing, im·pli·cates
1. To involve or connect intimately or incriminatingly: evidence that implicates others in the plot.

 in the deaths of people who consumed tainted cider or hamburgers.

This week, Ecolab of Saint Paul, Minn., announced it had received approval from the Environmental Protection Agency Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), independent agency of the U.S. government, with headquarters in Washington, D.C. It was established in 1970 to reduce and control air and water pollution, noise pollution, and radiation and to ensure the safe handling and  to market a patented version of the disinfectant combo to food distributors for treating fresh vegetables, including mushrooms, lettuce, onions, and bell peppers.

Lopes says his company has EPA EPA eicosapentaenoic acid.

eicosapentaenoic acid

EPA, See acid, eicosapentaenoic.

 approval but is awaiting FDA approval of another chlorinefree, antibacterial product for kitchen use. "You just dissolve it in tap water, spray it on foods, and kill the germs," he says.
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Title Annotation:bacteria on fresh fruits and vegetables that is not removed by normal washing is discovered
Author:Raloff, J.
Publication:Science News
Date:May 30, 1998
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