FRIDAY, April 16, 2010 (HealthDay News) -- Tainted produce is a common problem for low-income shoppers, U.S. researchers say.
They compared levels of bacteria, mold and yeast on identical produce products sold in six Philadelphia-area neighborhoods, three of which had the city's highest poverty levels. Stores in these neighborhoods tended to be smaller and offer less variety in fruits and vegetables.
Compared with the same products sold at stores in better-off neighborhoods, ready-to-eat salads and strawberries sold in stores in the poorer neighborhoods had significantly higher levels of microorganisms, yeasts and molds, cucumbers had a higher yeast count and watermelon had higher levels of bacteria.
"Food deteriorates when there is microbial growth," study co-author Jennifer Quinlan, a professor of nutrition and biology at Drexel University, said in a news release from the Center for the Advancement of Health. "The bacterial count is used to determine the quality of the produce and was poorer quality, closer to being spoiled. Three of the things that had a higher bacteria count -- strawberries, ready-to-go salad and fresh-cut watermelon -- have been associated with food-borne illness."
Poor quality produce discourages people from eating recommended amounts of fruits and vegetables, Quinlan said. But she said the smaller stores common in poor neighborhoods may not have the infrastructure for the safest handling of produce.
"The food may be of poorer quality to begin with; then it may be transported to the stores and not be refrigerated properly," she said. "Large supermarkets have entire units focused on food safety, refrigeration [and] sanitation, while a small facility with only one or two people may not have the resources."
The study appears online and in the May issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more about the benefits of fruits and vegetables.