Fruit and vegetable cocktails are unfermented raw fruit or vegetable products prepared by cutting, mixing and/ or diluting (in case of fruits) of the product after removing the unwanted portion. Based on the global trend observed, unlike in the developing countries, fresh fruit and vegetable consumption rate increased by 25.8 and 32.6%, respectively in the United States (US) from the year 1970–2004. Thus it was predicted that it can be exceeded processed fruit and vegetable consumption if it continues with a similar tendency. It was very important to acknowledge such a positive shift in nutritional preference and diet selection, for every country. However, it was also described that, in the year 1995, 18.9 billion pounds of fresh fruits and vegetables were lost annually due to spoilage, which accounts for 19.6% of all US economic losses of edible foods for that particular year (European commission 2002).
Vegetables and fruits are easily invaded by many microbes since they grow friendly with the environment. Moreover, their tissue is composed of the polysaccharides cellulose, hemicellulose, pectin and starch which is their storage polymer. Therefore, they can be easily spoiled by bacteria and fungi species which have the particular extracellular lytic enzymes like pectinases and hemicellulase (European commission 2002, Asha ‘et al.’ 2014). The direct consumption by the consumers without heat treatment is the primary concern. The cleanness of all utensils used for squeezing/ mixing, types of the water samples used and their microbial content and loads, storage conditions until serving at the household level are also another concern. These steps may not be efficient to eliminate contamination of ready to eat (RTE) vegetables and fruits from parasites and viruses. Besides, the storage under refrigeration may favour the growth of psychotropic pathogenic and spoilage microorganisms.
Globally, significant food safety concern (Mortality and Morbidity) has been linked with the microbiological hazards. Illnesses associated by microbial degradation of such food samples by the microbial proliferation and their toxins lead to major outbreaks. Such contamination of fresh fruits and vegetables by various bacterial pathogens (Salmonella spp., E. coli O157: H7 and Shigella spp.) was seen (Rajvan Shi A 2010, Victor ‘et al.’ 2017, Mirtunjay ‘et al.’ 2015). Food-borne mold can produce mycotoxins, and some yeasts and mold are responsible for human and animal infections (Jeddi ‘et al.’ 2014). Microbes, mainly the coliforms group has been used extensively as an indicator of the main indicators of microbiological quality of water and food. Their presence indicates improper treatment or post-disinfection contamination (Badasa ‘et al.’ 2008, Sewan ‘et al.’ 2012). Despite the overall prevalence of contamination seen, a notable seasonal trend was observed in the leafy vegetable groups and higher bacterial contamination rates were recognized in the summer. (Denis ‘et al.’ 2016, Back ‘et al.’ 2003).
Raw fruits and vegetables are known to have the potential for harbouring a wide range of microorganisms and causing several outbreaks (EC-SCF, 2002). Foodborne bacterial pathogens commonly detected in fresh vegetables are different toxin producing E.coli strains, Staphylococcus aureus enterotoxin, Salmonella species, Shigella species, Bacillus species, Campylobcter species, Listeria monocytogenes, Clostridium boutlinium. For example, Salmonella species were isolated from all the fruits samples tested in Sango Ota Nigeria (Eni ‘et al.’ 2010). E.coli 0157: H7, Salmonella species, Cryptosporidium spp and Vibrio cholera were reported as major outbreak causing organisms from fruit juices, in India (Asha ‘et al.’ 2014). Aeromonas hydrophila, Citrobacter freundii, Enterobacter cloacae and Klebsiella species have been isolated in lettuce and salad vegetables (Eni ‘et al.’ 2010, Chaturvedi ‘et al.’ 2013). 49% of Pseudomonas species with biofilm formation also reported in minimally processed vegetables (Merieles ‘et al.’ 2017). Yersinia pseudotuberculosis in Carrots identified as the biggest concern in Australia (Australian FMP, 2005). Yersinia entercolitica also reported in addition to other pathogens and indicators as higher as 33% (Nousiainen ‘et al.’ 2016).
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency conducted similar surveys in a wide range of products (local vs. imported, organic vs. conventional) and reported comparable findings (Denis ‘et al.’ 2016). Escherichia coli O157: H7 infection, in bagged spinach resulted in almost 200 cases of food poisoning and three deaths in USA. Salmonella in apple and orange juice, E.coli 0157 in apple juices were reported (Asha ‘et al.’ 2014, Australian FMP, 2005). Likewise leafy greens, such as lettuce and spinach, and fresh herbs, such as parsley and basil are well-recognized and reported as potential sources of bacterial infections (Nwachukwa ‘et al.’, WHO 2018, Bereger ‘et al.’2010, Abadisa ‘et al.’ 2008).
With regard to Global transmission, in 2007 fresh herbs sold at retail in the UK were reported to cause international outbreak of Salmonella infection linked to contaminated basil from Israel and affected at least 51 individuals from England, Wales, Scotland, Denmark, the Netherlands and USA. Fresh cut and whole melons (Collazoa ‘et al.’2017), watermelon from Brazil In late 2011/early 2012, Fresh tomatoes in USA, 11 outbreaks in Canada in sprouts, cantaloupe, lettuce and fresh herbs, Sprouts in the Check Republic (Vojkovslea ‘et al.’ 2017), Fresh produce in Italy (Caramone ‘et al.’2015), vegetable salad in developing countries (Mira ‘et al.’ 2018) have been registered. As the result of E. coli O157: H7 in lettuce imported from the USA, affected 31 people in 2012 and one caused by Salmonella in domestic green onions, which resulted in 20 cases of foodborne illness (Denis ‘et al.’ 2016).
Although such outbreaks were infrequently reported in the country, the main objective of this evaluative study focused to assess the microbial quality of such vegetables and fruits by testing the common indicator and pathogenic organisms. Specifically, to look into their distribution and to estimate the level of consumption rate in the country.