Food safety is a global issue, affecting food production and processing. The study assessed the microbiological quality of commercially dried fruits and home dried fruits and vegetables in Lesotho. Moisture content, pH and water activity of the fruits and vegetables were determined using standard methods. Nine different growth media were used for microbial evaluation. Moisture content and water activity were within World Health Organisation guidelines for dried fruits and vegetables. Fungi counts ranged from 2.0x102 to 8.7x105 CFU g-1, and dried pumpkin leaves recorded the highest. More than 45% and 38% of the samples exceeded the fungal and total aerobic counts recommended by WHO, respectively. Possible pathogens of the genera Salmonella, Shigella, Bacillus and other Enterobacteriaceae were isolated from home dried samples. Faecal coliforms were detected in 55% of the home dried food products. More than 60% of the samples recorded higher microbial levels than recommended. While half of commercially dried fruits exceeded international standards, all home dried fruits and vegetables recorded unacceptably high levels of fungal contamination. The presence of possible pathogenic organisms in these foodstuffs suggest a potential public health hazard to consumers. Sanitation and personal hygiene, especially during home-based food processing, needs improvement.
Key words: Dried fruits, food-borne illness; food safety, guideline, low moisture foods, microbial quality, vegetables
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