Bugs be passed around on leafy greens

Several outbreaks of foodborne illness traced to leafy greens and culinary herbs have been hypothesized to involve cross-contamination during washing and processing. This study aimed to assess the redistribution of Salmonella Typhimurium LT2 during pilot-scale production of baby spinach and cilantro and redistribution of Escherichia coli O157:H7 during pilot-scale production of romaine lettuce.

Four inoculated surrogate: uninoculated product weight ratios (10:100, 5:100, 1:100, and 0.5:100) and three inoculation levels (103, 101, and 10−1 CFU/g) were used for the three commodities. For each of three trials per condition, 5-kg batches containing uninoculated product and spot-inoculated surrogate products at each ratio and inoculation level were washed for 90 s in a 3.6-m-long flume tank through which 890 L of sanitizer-free, filtered tap water was circulated. After washing and removing the inoculated surrogate products, washed product (∼23, 225-g samples per trial) was analyzed for presence or absence of Salmonella Typhimurium or E. coli O157:H7 by using the GeneQuence Assay.

For baby spinach, cilantro, and romaine lettuce, no significant differences (P > 0.05) in the percentage of positive samples were observed at the same inoculation level and inoculated: uninoculated weight ratio. For each pathogen product evaluated (triplicate trials), inoculation level had a significant impact on the percentage of positive samples after processing, with the percentage of positive samples decreasing, as the initial surrogate inoculation level decreased.

The weight ratio of contaminated: noncontaminated product plays an important role: positive samples ranged from 0% to 11.6% ± 2.05% and from 68.1% ± 33.6% to 100% among the four ratios at inoculation of 10−1 and 101 CFU/g, respectively.

To our knowledge, this study is the first to assess the redistribution of low levels of pathogens from incoming product to leafy greens during processing and should provide important data for microbial risk assessments and other types of food safety analyses related to fresh-cut leafy greens.

Transfer and redistribution of Salmonella typhimurium LT2 and Escherichia coli O157:H7 during pilot-scale processing of baby spinach, cilantro, and romaine lettuce

Journal of food Protection vol.81 no. 6 June 2018