Survival of Enteric pathogens during Butterhead lettuce growth: Crop stage, leaf age, and irrigation

The survival of Salmonella enterica serovar Thompson and Escherichia coli O157 was investigated on growing butterhead lettuce plants in the plant-growth chamber and greenhouse. All inoculation tests were made under conditions that approximate the greenhouse conditions for butterhead lettuce cultivation in Flanders (Belgium). The survival and proliferation of the pathogens on the leaves was determined at days 0, 4, and 8 after butterhead.lettuce.jun.13inoculation using standard plating techniques on selective medium. In the growth chamber, the extent to which both pathogens were able to multiply on the lettuce leaves was influenced by crop stage and leaf age. On young plants, the older leaves supported pathogen survival better. On nearly mature plants, pathogen population sizes were significantly higher on the old and young leaves compared with middle-aged leaves (p<0.001). In the greenhouse, the environmental regimen with high fluctuations in temperature and relative humidity was less conducive to the survival of E. coliO157, though its survival on nearly mature lettuce was enhanced by overhead irrigation. The moist conditions between the folded inner leaves are likely contributing to the survival of enteric pathogens in the lettuce head. Butterhead lettuce grown in greenhouses with a sprinkle irrigation system may present a potential health hazard when contaminated near harvest. Experimental design (growth chamber versus greenhouse) largely influences enteric pathogen behavior on growing lettuce plants.

Foodborne Pathogens and Disease. June 2013, 10(6): 485-491

Inge Van der Linden, Bart Cottyn, Mieke Uyttendaele, Geertrui Vlaemynck, Marc Heyndrickx, and Martine Maes