Salmonella with your salad? Study reveals dozens of harmful bacteria on ‘healthy’ vegetables

Harold Hutchison, DCNF

The organic lettuce you bought to make a salad may make you sick, according to a preliminary study released this month by a Spanish university.

Researchers at the Universitat Politècnica de València in Spain led by Dr. Yolanda Moreno presented research Saturday finding that amoebas on organic lettuce can harbor a number of bacteria, notably salmonella, the Daily Mail reported. The scientists collected 17 samples from supermarkets in Valencia, Spain.

“The presence of bacteria of public health concern contained inside the free-living amoebae suggests that they are vehicles that can easily transmit pathogens capable of reaching humans and causing health problems through contaminated organic vegetables,” Moreno said, according to the Daily Mail.

Researchers found 52 types of bacteria that could cause disease, the Daily Mail reported, with two-thirds of the samples containing Acanthamoeba castellanii, a bacteria that potentially causes encephalitis and blindness. A fifth of the samples carried another bacteria, Vermamoeba vermiformis, which is known to cause severe infections.

“Contamination can arise as a consequence of treating soil with organic fertilisers such as manure and sewage sludge and from irrigation water,” Moreno told the Daily Mail.

Salmonella kills about 420 Americans a year, along with causing 26,500 hospitalizations out of over 1.3 million infections, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Symptoms can last from four to seven days and could begin as soon as six hours after being infected.

The CDC recommends rinsing leafy greens under running water and discarding any torn or bruised leaves. In one outbreak traced to lettuce in October 2021, 31 people across four states became ill, the CDC reported.

A University of Minnesota study published in May 2004 by the Journal of Food Protection revealed that generic E. coli was six times as likely to be present on organic produce than conventional produce prior to being harvested. Fecal contamination was also noted as being “significantly higher,” according to the University of Minnesota researchers.

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