The Yuck Factor

Before you dive into your salad you may want to read on.

Researchers from the University of British Columbia collected lettuce samples for testing from 14 vendors at 5 different, unidentified markets around Vancouver, BC and then tested them for different bacteria. What they found was that coliform bacteria was detected in 72 per cent of the samples – of which 13 per cent harboured E. coli. Worse still, resistance to one or more antibiotics was detected in 97 per cent of the E. coli samples; one-fifth of the E. coli in the samples suggested fecal contamination. It didn’t specify if that was just human or animal, but fecal contamination all the same.

It should be noted that all the samples tested fell within current Health Canada guidelines.

Of the results, lead author of the study, Jayde Wood said, “One of the shocking things we noticed was the multi-drug resistant bacteria. We need to investigate possible selection pressures along the food chain that may contribute to this phenomenon.”

And if you think washing/rinsing your fruits and vegetables before consumption will keep you safe, you may want to consider:

“You can probably wash away a lot of bacteria, but it only takes a tiny amount of pathogen to get you sick. Chances are not that great that washing will completely eliminate all of the virulent bacteria. Cooking is effective at eliminating bacteria, but you don’t really boil your salad before you eat it.”

Interestingly, all the tested samples were grown and harvested in the Lower Mainland of British Columbia.

So what can you do to keep you and your family safe from foodborne disease? Wood suggests that your best defense is to keep up to date with recalls and warnings issued by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. You can find these recalls and warnings on their website: www.inspection.gc.ca

Microbiological Survey of Locally Grown Lettuce Sold at Farmers’ Markets in Vancouver, British Columbia appears in the January 2015 issue of Journal of Food Protection.