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Food Surveillance in Scotland - Microbiological Quality of Root Vegetables and Salad Items

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Between 2008 and 2011 approximately 20% of salad items sampled at retail and catering premises in Scotland failed due to unsatisfactory levels of microbiological contamination with the majority of failures attributed to the presence of elevated levels of hygiene indicators including E.coli, staphylococcus, and listeria species.

Salad vegetables may be contaminated with pathogens either at the production stage, via contamination of seeds, irrigation water, fertilisers and soils; or through cross-contamination when served. Self-service salad bars are considered to present a particular risk to consumers due to the potential for cross-contamination from serving utensils used for different dishes and through human contact. It is also recognised that raw vegetables may present a risk to consumers if they are not handled or treated appropriately prior to consumption.

This survey on the microbiological quality of vegetables will provide data to support the Agency’s evidence base on the microbiological risks associated with the production and handling of root vegetables and salad items.

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Research Approach:
This study aims to collect survey data to improve the Agency’s evidence base on the foodborne disease risks associated with the production and handling of root vegetables and salad items.

The study will be in three parts, conducted in parallel:

  • 200 samples of salad items sold at self-service salad bars in restaurants, supermarkets and delicatessens will be collected and tested for microbiological pathogens.
  • 200 samples of non-pre-washed vegetables (including leafy salads, carrots and leeks depending on seasonal availability) from vegetable markets and greengrocers will be collected and tested for microbiological pathogens.
  • 100 samples of sprouted seeds (including alfalfa, adzuki, beetroot, broccoli, mustard, cress, radish), and 100 samples of beansprouts will be collected and tested for faecal pathogens such as E.coli (including O157) and salmonella.
Findings from the study will be used to inform the need for specific guidance on the preparation, storage and rotation of these foods and will help to underpin our advice and guidance on the prevention of microbiological contamination during production and handling.

Find more about this project and other FSA food safety-related projects at the Food Standards Agency Research webpage.

Funding Source
Food Standards Agency
Project number
Bacterial Pathogens
Prevention and Control