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article imageFood poisoning scare from farmers' markets

By Tim Sandle     Jan 7, 2015 in Health
Farmers’ markets are becoming increasingly popular, providing opportunities for people to purchase fresh produce as opposed to pre-packaged supermarket fare. A study in the U.S. warns about the presence of pathogens.
The new research has looked for the presence of bacterial pathogens like Salmonella and Escherichia coli on herbs sold at farmers' markets. The study sampled 133 herbs taken from 13 markets and 49 market stands. The samples, each of approximately one pound in weight, were taken between July and October 2013.
The samples were taken back to a microbiology laboratory and processed. Bacteriological tests were undertaken to screen for the presence or absence of specific pathogens associated with food borne illnesses.
It was found that just under one quarter (24.1 percent) showed the presence of for E. coli and one sample tested positive for Salmonella. The Salmonella sample was from parsley. Salmonellae are found worldwide in both cold-blooded and warm-blooded animals, and in the environment. They cause illnesses such as typhoid fever, paratyphoid fever, and food poisoning. Most E. coli strains are harmless, but some serotypes are pathogenic and can cause serious food poisoning in humans. Food poisoning caused by E. coli can result from eating unwashed vegetables or poorly butchered and under-cooked meat
The farmers’ markets visited were all in the U.S. and they were located in Los Angeles and Orange counties in California, and in the Seattle, Washington locales. Of the different regions, Orange County farmers' markets had the highest percentage of samples with E. coli growth.
The researchers are concerned that whilst the produce sold needs to meet certain quality standards, such as demonstrating that food sold as organic is actually organic, food safety is lax. The reason for the focus on herbs is because some herbs, like parsley, basil and cilantro have been associated in food poisoning outbreaks in recent years. In August 2013, there were more than 8,000 farmers' markets listed by the United States Department for Agriculture.
According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Economic Research Service, farmers' markets have been increasing since 2009 near urban areas, particularly along the East and West Coasts
The study was carried out by staff engaged in the Chapman University's Food Science Program. The research has been reported to the Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture in a paper headed “Microbial safety and quality of fresh herbs from Los Angeles, Orange County and Seattle farmers' markets.”
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