To reduce the number of cabbage pathogen outbreaks, it is essential to understand the fate of enteric pathogens that contaminate plants in the field. To assist in that effort, two independent trials were conducted with a red cultivar (cv. Red Dynasty) and a green cultivar (cv. Bravo F1) of field-grown cabbage (Brassica oleracea var. capitata). In the first trial, plants with small heads were sprayed with an inoculum containing both attenuated Salmonella enterica Typhimurium and Escherichia coli O157:H7 (5.0 log CFU/mL). Initial pathogen levels (ca. 3.9 log CFU per head), determined through plate count enumeration (limit of detection was 1.3 log CFU/g), dropped precipitously such that 2 days later, they could not be detected by enrichment culture in 22 to 35% of the heads. However, subsequent declines were at a slower rate; no differences were observed between red and green cabbage heads (P > 0.05), and heads were still positive for the pathogens 22 days after being sprayed with the inoculum. As a result, the logistic model revealed that for every 2 days contaminated cabbage heads remained in the field, the probability of finding a positive sample decreased by a factor of 1.1 (95% confidence interval from 1.0 to 1.2, P = 0.0022) and 1.2 (95% confidence interval from 1.0 to 1.4, P ≤ 0.0001) for Salmonella and E. coli O157:H7, respectively. In the second trial occurring 2 weeks later, plants with medium red or green cabbage heads were sprayed with an inoculum at a dose of 3.5 log CFU/mL. A similar decay in prevalence over time occurred for green cabbage as in trial 1; however, pathogen decline in red cabbage was less in trial 2 than in trial 1. The extended persistence of pathogens in cabbage heads exhibited in both trials infers that harvest of contaminated cabbage destined for raw consumption is risky. Additional field studies are necessary to determine whether similar pathogen fates occur in other regions or climates and to clarify the effect of the maturity of red cabbage on pathogen inactivation.
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