Scientists study microbiomes on fresh produce

There’s more to your salad than meets the eye.

Researchers at the University of Colorado delved into the world of the communities of microorganisms that reside on fresh foods, such as fruits and vegetables, to find out what’s actually there. Often, research focuses only on pathogenic bacteria, such as E. coli and Salmonella, as these pose a health risk. However, the surfaces of fresh foods also play host to spectrum of other microbes, many of which are harmless.

The study, recently published in PLoS One, found that different types of produce harbor different bacteria. For example, Enterobacteriaceae were commonly found on spinach, bean sprouts and strawberries but were more rare on apples, grapes, peaches and mushrooms. The most notorious member of this family of bacteria is E. coli, but many of the others are nonpathogenic and some may even be beneficial, NPR’s The Salt points out.

It’s not clear why the microbiomes are different or how the composition of the different microbiological communities can affect our health, study leader Johnathan Leff told The Salt. What is more clear is the how this knowledge could be used – possible new ways to keep produce fresher longer and to achieve a better understanding of microbiomes’ impact on human health.

In recent years, fresh produce has come under increased scrutiny. In fact, the 2011 Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) has a specific rule dedicated to produce safety (the proposed rule currently is in its comment period). Much of this is because often, fresh produce such as leafy greens isn’t cooked before it is consumed.

Read the full study here.

Check out these raw produce safety tips from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

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