Microbial Quality of Food Available to Populations of Differing Socioeconomic Status


      Low SES has been shown to be linked to poorer-quality diets, decreased consumption of fresh produce, and an increased reliance on small retail stores.


      The objective of this research was to determine if there is a difference in the microbial quality and potential safety of food available to low-SES versus high-SES populations at the retail level.


      Aerobic plate count (APC); yeast and mold counts (Y&M); and total coliforms were determined in ready-to-eat (RTE) greens, precut watermelon, broccoli, strawberries, cucumbers, milk, and orange juice and compared among products purchased in stores in low- versus those purchased in high-SES neighborhoods between June 2005 and September 2006. APC, fecal coliforms, and E. coli in ground beef and the presence of Salmonella and Campylobacter in chicken were also compared.


      Results showed higher microbial loads on produce from markets in low-SES areas. Significant differences observed included (1) APC and Y&M in RTE greens, (2) APC and Y&M in strawberries, and (3) YMCs in cucumbers. No difference was detected in the level of pathogens in raw meat and poultry; however, the APC in ground beef available in high-SES markets was significantly higher compared with that found in low-SES markets.


      The results presented here indicate that populations of low SES may be more likely to experience produce of poorer microbial quality, which may have an impact on both the appeal and potential safety of the produce.
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