Food risk associated with vegetable consumption, exposure to antimicrobial-resistant strains and pesticide residues

Submitted: 30 December 2022
Accepted: 13 March 2023
Published: 8 June 2023
Abstract Views: 1624
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This preliminary study aimed to detect biological and chemical contaminants in vegetables sold in Sicily for human consumption, assess the spread of antimicrobial-resistant (AMR) strains in these foods, and characterize their antimicrobial-resistance genes. A total of 29 fresh and ready-to-eat samples were analyzed. Microbiological analyses were performed for the detection of Salmonella spp. and the enumeration of Enterococci, Enterobacteriaceae, and Escherichia coli. Antimicrobial resistance was assessed by the Kirby-Bauer method, according to the Clinical and Laboratory Standards Institute guidelines. Pesticides were detected by high-performance liquid chromatography and gas chromatography coupled with mass spectrometry. No samples were contaminated by Salmonella spp., E. coli was detected in 1 sample of fresh lettuce at a low bacterial count (2 log cfu/g). 17.24% of vegetables were contaminated by Enterococci and 65.5% by Enterobacteriaceae (bacterial counts between 1.56 log cfu/g and 5.93 log cfu/g and between 1.6 log cfu/g and 5.48 log cfu/g respectively). From 86.2% of vegetables, 53 AMR strains were isolated, and 10/53 isolates were multidrug resistant. Molecular analysis showed that the blaTEM gene was detected in 12/38 β-lactam-resistant/intermediate-resistant isolates. Genes conferring tetracycline resistance (tetA, tetB, tetC, tetD, tetW) were detected in 7/10 isolates. The qnrS gene was detected in 1/5 quinolone-resistant isolates, the sulI gene was detected in 1/4 sulfonamide-resistant/intermediate-resistant isolates and the sulIII gene was never detected. Pesticides were detected in 27.3% of samples, all of which were leafy vegetables. Despite the satisfactory hygienic status of samples, the high percentage of AMR bacteria detected stresses the need for an effective monitoring of these foods as well as adequate strategies to counteract the spread of AMR bacteria along the agricultural chain. Also, the chemical contamination of vegetables should not be underestimated, especially considering that leafy vegetables are commonly consumed raw and that no official guidelines about maximum residue limits of pesticides in ready-to-eat vegetables are available.



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How to Cite

Castello A, Lo Cascio G, Ferraro C, Pantano L, Costa A, Butera G, Oliveri G, Rizzuto ML, Alduina R, Cardamone C. Food risk associated with vegetable consumption, exposure to antimicrobial-resistant strains and pesticide residues. Ital J Food Safety [Internet]. 2023 Jun. 8 [cited 2024 Jul. 23];12(2). Available from: