Photo: Skevbo / Flikr, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 Contaminated irrigation water, animal wastes and handling by sick workers are all potential sources of viral and pathogen contamination on fresh produce. When the produce is consumed without cooking (ie, without a kill step), this contamination can result in significant foodborne illness. Incidents involving salad vegetables and sprout garnishes proliferate throughout the world. Some researchers at the University of Illinois College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences (ACES) decided to look at how viruses could stick to the surface of 24 common salad vegetables. They expected to establish that the small virus particles could ‘hide’ in the rough structures of the cuticle, the waxy layer that protects the plant against diseases and reduces water loss.

They did not get the results they expected. In fact, vegetables with three-dimensional crystalline wax structures on the leaf cuticle harboured significantly fewer virus particles after rinsing. The researchers found a thousand-fold difference in the number of viral particles adhering to different types of leafy greens and tomatoes.

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