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Microbial quality of ready-to-eat foods available to populations of different demographics

By Renata Jacob


Evidence indicates that individuals of low socioeconomic status (SES) and minority groups may suffer greater rates of foodborne illness. Previous research has also indicated that these populations have different retail access to food than high SES populations. This study examined whether populations of different demographics are exposed to greater microbial risks on ready-to-eat foods available to them at the retail level.The US Census Bureau was used to identify census tracts with high Asian (ASI), Hispanic (HIS), Caucasian (CAU) and African American (AFA) populations as well as census tracts of high and low SES. Databases were used to identify food store outlets available in those tracts. Two hundred and thirteen (213) food stores from 63 tracts were visited and 994 ready-to-eat (RTE) food samples were purchased for microbiological testing. Food samples were tested for temperature, aerobic plate count, coliforms, fecal coliforms, E. coli, S. aureus and L. monocytogenes.The temperature of storage of eggs was lower in retail stores located in CAU tracts when compared to low SES tracts (46.9 ± 5.7°F vs. 50.2 ± 7.2°F, p=0.026). Aerobic plate count in milk was lower in stores from AFA tracts when compared to milk from HIS tracts (2.36 ± 0.99 vs. 3.07 ± 1.65 log10 CFU/ml, p=0.042); and lower in milk from high SES tracts (2.24 ± 1.03 log10 CFU/ml) when compared to milk from HIS and low SES tracts (3.07 ± 1.65 and 2.98 ± 1.64 log10 CFU/ml; p=0.014 and p=0.035, respectively). Prevalence of fecal coliform in deli meat was lower in stores located in CAU tracts (2.7%) when compared to HIS and high SES tracts (21.1%, p=0.014; 20%, p=0.020, respectively). Hoagie samples from stores in low SES tracts showed lower APC when compared to hoagies from CAU, ASI and HIS tracts (5.83 ± 1.28 log10 CFU/g vs. 6.31 ± 1.03, 6.44 ± 0.92 and 6.29 ± 1.24 log10 CFU/ml, respectively; p=0.028, p=0.009 and p=0.016). Coliform counts of hoagie samples from stores located in HIS tracts were lower when compared to hoagies from CAU and high SES tracts (2.15 ± 1.49 log10 MPN/g vs. 2.82 ± 1.43 and 2.76 ± 1.59 log10 MPN/g, respectively; p=0.007 and p=0.013). E. coli was found in one hoagie sample from a HIS tract (1.5%) and Listeria spp. was found in two hoagie samples from CAU and low SES tracts, as well as in one hoagie sample from HIS and high SES tracts. Greater availability of RTE produce and fresh herb samples were found in stores in ASI and high SES tracts.Additionally, observations were made on the way tofu is handled at 15 retail stores from ASI census tracts. One hundred and ten (110) tofu samples either prepackaged or from opened containers were tested. The same tests performed for RTE foods were performed for both tofu cake and juice from open containers and package. Only tofu cakes were tested for Listeria spp. Tofu samples from open containers showed a higher APC, coliform counts and temperature of storage than packaged tofu; S. aureus and Listeria spp. were found only in tofu from open containers (2.6% and 6.4%, respectively).These results indicate that individuals of especially low SES, Asian and Hispanic populations may find RTE products of lower quality at the retail level. In particular Asian population may face increased risks of foodborne illness due to tofu products of low quality and safety from retail stores. Additionally, higher APC and coliform levels in lunchmeat and hoagies from high SES and Caucasian areas may indicate poorer quality of these products available for these populations, however these products were not found to be less safe. Finally, using microbial count as an indicator, it would appear that African American populations are not exposed to higher risks of foodborne illness due to microbial contamination of ready-to-eat foods.M.S., Biology -- Drexel University, 201

Topics: Biology, Food -- Microbiology, Food -- Economic aspects
Publisher: Drexel University
Year: 2010
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