Statistical Distributions Describing Microbial Quality of Surfaces and Foods in Food Service Operations

Rebecca Montville, Donald W. Schaffner

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Scopus citations


Data on the microbial quality of food service kitchen surfaces and ready-to-eat foods were collected over a period of 10 years in Rutgers University dining halls. Surface bacterial counts, total aerobic plate counts, and total and fecal coliform counts were determined using standard methods. Analysis was performed on foods tested more than 50 times (primarily lunch meats and deli salads) and on surfaces tested more than 500 times (36 different surfaces types, including pastry brushes, cutting boards, and countertops). Histograms and statistical distributions were determined using Microsoft Excel and Palisades Bestfit, respectively. All data could be described by lognormal distributions, once data above and below the lower and upper limits of detection were considered separately. Histograms for surfaces counts contained one peak near 1 CFU/4 cm2. Surfaces with higher levels of contamination tended to be nonmetal, with the exception of buffalo chopper bowls, which commonly had high counts. Mean counts for foods ranged from 2 to 4 log CFU/g, with shrimp salad, roast beef, and bologna having higher means. Coleslaw, macaroni salad, and potato salad (all commercially processed products, not prepared in the dining halls) had lowest overall means. Coliforms were most commonly found in sealeg salad (present in 61% of samples) and least commonly found in coleslaw (present in only 7% of samples). Coliform counts (when present) were highest on average in shrimp salad and lowest in coleslaw. Average coliform counts for most products were typically between 1 and 2 log most probable number per gram. Fecal coliforms were not typically found in any deli salads or lunch meats.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)162-167
Number of pages6
JournalJournal of food protection
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2004

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Food Science
  • Microbiology


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