Consumers can play an important role in minimizing the presence of E. coli by maintaining the cold chain, Jay-Russell said.
“There have been studies that found E. coli 0157:H7, when allowed to get above refrigeration temperatures, will start to grow again,” she said. “Once those numbers go up, the risk increases.”
Consumers also can exacerbate the problem when trying to prevent possible pathogen contamination, she said.
“If a product is triple-washed, we don’t recommend another wash in the home, because it opens the possibility of cross contamination,” Jay-Russell said.
The study, funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration, was conducted by microbiologists and epidemiologists from the institute, the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service and Western Regional Research Center and Wildlife Services, the Western Center for Food Safety at UC-Davis and the University of California Cooperative Extension.
The study is nearly complete, but further research is planned, Jay-Russell said.
“We’ve had great cooperation from the growers,” she said. “They’ve been very important in trying to piece together what the risk factors are.”
The findings were presented May 24 at the annual meeting of the American Society for Microbiology in San Diego.