The ripeness of fruit could determine how food poisoning bacteria grow on them, according to scientists presenting their work at the Society for General Microbiology’s Spring Conference in Dublin this week. Their work could lead to new strategies to improve food safety, bringing many health and economic benefits.
A wide range of fresh produce has been linked to outbreaks of Escherichia coli and Salmonella enterica including melons, jalapeño and serrano peppers, basil, lettuce, horseradish sprouts and tomatoes. Researchers at Imperial College London are looking at how these bacterial pathogens latch onto fruits and vegetables and establish themselves in the first place.
They have discovered that strains of Salmonella behave differently when attached to ripe and unripe tomatoes. "Bacteria that attach to ripe tomatoes produce an extensive network of filaments, which is not seen when they attach to the surface of unripe tomatoes. This could affect how they are maintained on the surface," explained Professor Gad Frankel who is leading the research. "We are not completely sure yet why this happens; it might be due to the surface properties of the tomatoes or alternatively the expression of ripening hormones."
Results like these should feed submissions called for by Food Standards Australia New Zealand regarding the safety of fresh produce including fruits, vegetables, mushrooms, tree nuts and edible flowers.
FSANZ Chief Executive Officer Steve McCutcheon said this work was part of a series of national food safety standards which apply throughout the food supply chain – from paddock to plate.
“The majority of fresh horticultural produce grown in Australia is produced under industry-based food safety schemes. However, food safety hazards can occur which can cause illness in the community and costs to industry.
“FSANZ is exploring if regulatory or additional non-regulatory measures are needed to manage these hazards in conjunction with existing schemes.”
Comments are invited from government agencies, industry and consumers on the Assessment Report.
The closing date for submissions is 21 May 2012.