One of the factors that maintains fruit quality is its microbial flora. Fruit holds a natural non-pathogenic epiphytic microflora but can become contaminated with pathogenic microorganisms during export, causing either postharvest decay or possibly resulting in a food safety risk. In order to study microbial dynamics on fruit surfaces and the environment fruit moves through in the export chain, fruit washings were made, surfaces were sampled and total populations and diversities determined per cm2. Hygiene and safety levels for fruit export environments were hereby determined by sampling various points along the apple export chain, which included two farms and a harbour in South Africa and two harbours, two repacking facilities and two retail centres in Europe. In this first study of its kind, all the surfaces that were sampled exceeded the international standard for cleaning efficacy of food-processing equipment that is <5 cfu/cm2, while several areas exceeded the maximum acceptable index level of microbial air contamination of 22 cfu/h in food industries. Washing of containers on a harbour in South Africa did not have a significant impact on microbial populations. Regarding fruit quality, it was determined that apple microflora fluctuate throughout the export process and that postharvest pathogens that are known to cause great economic losses in the apple industry, proved to be of little significance in this investigation. The presence of six foodborne pathogens i.e. Shigella sonnei, Salmonella muenchen, Escherichia coli, Listeria monocytogenes, Staphylococcus aureus and Staphylococcus epidermidi/s was monitored throughout the chain. Of these, only S. aureus and E. coli were recorded, although pathogenicity was not confirmed for the latter. Staphylococcus aureus was found in containers and at a retail centre in Europe, and S. aureus and S. epidermidis were recorded on apple surfaces for the first time. Escherichia coli was present in great numbers in fruit washing water on a farm in South Africa. Since the standard for food premises is very stringent and perhaps inapplicable for fresh fruit handling and holding facilities, future research should include development of a more realistic hygiene standard for fresh fruit environments.
Dissertation (MSc(Agric) : Plant Pathology)--University of Pretoria, 2008.