A monitoring effort that spanned across 1.5 years was conducted to examine three types of produce-associated microbiota. The average amount of antibiotic-resistant bacteria recovered from lettuce, tomato, and cucumber was 1.02 × 1010, 2.05 × 107, and 4.78 × 109 cells per 50 g of each produce, respectively. A total of 480 bacterial isolates were obtained and identified from their 16S rRNA genes, revealing isolates that were ubiquitously recovered from all three types of produce. However, sporadic presence of Klebsiella pneumoniae and Acinetobacter baumannii was detected on lettuce and cucumbers but not tomatoes. End-point PCR revealed that the K. pneumoniae and A. baumannii isolates were positive for genes encoding extended spectrum beta-lactamase. Whole genome sequencing of two of the K. pneumoniae isolates further suggested the presence of the blaCTX-M-15 gene in a conjugative plasmid, as well as other antibiotic resistance genes and virulence-associated traits in either conjugative plasmids or the chromosomal genome. Quantitative microbial risk assessment indicated varying levels of ingestion risk associated with different types of produce. In particular, the risk arising from ESBL-positive K. pneumoniae in lettuce, but not in cucumbers or tomatoes, was higher than the acceptable annual risk of 10−4. Practical applications Three types of vegetables were sampled and evaluated over 1.5 years to determine differences in their associated bacterial isolates. Particular emphasis was placed on identifying pathogenic strains that were positive for extended spectrum beta-lactamase (ESBL). Quantitative estimates of the microbial risk associated with the ESBL-positive pathogens showed that different produce types may incur varying levels of ingestion risk. Most of the currently reported ESBL-positive bacterial isolates have been identified in nosocomial environments. However, the carriage of such drug-resistant bacteria in vegetables suggests a possible connection between our daily diet and human health.
Bibliographical noteKAUST Repository Item: Exported on 2020-10-01
Acknowledged KAUST grant number(s): BAS/1/1033–01-01
Acknowledgements: The authors would like to thank Ms. Alaa Ragab and the students of EnSE314 Public Health Microbiology Spring 2015 for processing some of the samples. The authors would also like to thank the anonymous respondents who took part in the survey that provided information on dietary consumption rates of the different produce. This work is funded by KAUST Baseline funding BAS/1/1033–01-01 awarded to P.-Y. Hong.