An avirulent Salmonella to better understand outbreaks on produce

Recurrent outbreaks of bacterial gastroenteritis linked to the consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables highlight the paucity of understanding of the ecology of Salmonella enterica under crop production and postharvest conditions.

tomatoThese gaps in knowledge are due, at least in part, to the lack of suitable surrogate organisms for studies for which biosafety level 2 is problematic. Therefore, we constructed and validated an avirulent strain of Salmonella enterica serovar Typhimurium.

The strain lacks major Salmonella pathogenicity islands SPI-1, SPI-2, SPI-3, SPI-4, and SPI-5 as well as the virulence plasmid pSLT. Deletions and the absence of genomic rearrangements were confirmed by genomic sequencing, and the surrogate behaved like the parental wild-type strain on selective media. A loss-of-function (phoN) selective marker allowed the differentiation of this strain from wild-type strains on a medium containing a chromogenic substrate for alkaline phosphatase. Lack of virulence was confirmed by oral infection of female BALB/c mice. The strain persisted in tomatoes, cantaloupes, leafy greens, and soil with the same kinetics as the parental wild-type and selected outbreak strains, and it reached similar final population levels. The responses of this strain to heat treatment and disinfectants were similar to those of the wild type, supporting its potential as a surrogate for future studies on the ecology and survival of Salmonella in production and processing environments.


There is significant interest in understanding the ecology of human pathogens in environments outside of their animal hosts, including the crop production environment. However, manipulative field experiments with virulent human pathogens are unlikely to receive regulatory approval due to the obvious risks. Therefore, we constructed an avirulent strain of S. enterica serovar Typhimurium and characterized it extensively.

Development of an avirulent Salmonella surrogate for modeling pathogen behavior in pre- and postharvest environments

Marcos H. de Moraes a, Travis K. Chapin b, Amber Ginn c, Anita C. Wright c, Kenneth Parker a, Carol Hoffman d, David W. Pascual d, Michelle D. Danyluk b and Max Teplitski a

A Soil and Water Science Department, Genetics Institute, University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS), Gainesville, Florida, USA

B Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition, Citrus Research and Education Center, UF/IFAS, Lake Alfred, Florida, USA

C Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition, UF/IFAS, Gainesville, Florida, USA

D Department of Infectious Diseases and Pathology, University of Florida, Gainesville, Florida, USA

Applied and Environmental Microbiology, Volume 82, Number 14, July 2016, Pages 4100-4111, doi:10.1128/AEM.00898-16

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About Douglas Powell

A former professor of food safety and the publisher of, Powell is passionate about food, has five daughters, and is an OK goaltender in pickup hockey. Download Doug’s CV here. Dr. Douglas Powell editor, retired professor, food safety 3/289 Annerley Rd Annerley, Queensland 4103 61478222221 I am based in Brisbane, Australia, 15 hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time