Contaminated vegetable seeds have been identified as a potential source of foodborne bacterial pathogens. This study was undertaken to observe the behavior of Salmonella and enterohemorrhagic Escherichia coli (EHEC) on vegetable seeds, contaminated by direct contact with artificially inoculated soil, during germination. Sterile sandy soil inoculated with lyophilized cells of four individual strains of Salmonella or EHEC (three O157:H7 strains and one O104:H4 strain) was mixed with sanitized seeds (2 g) of alfalfa, fenugreek, lettuce, and tomato at 20°C for 1 h. The contaminated seeds were germinated on 1% water agar at 25°C for 9 days in the dark. Populations of Salmonella and EHEC on various tissues (seed coat, root, cotyledon, and stem, etc.) of sprouts and seedlings were determined every other day over the germination period. Overall, 70.4 and 72.4% of collected tissue samples (n = 544) tested positive for Salmonella and EHEC, respectively. In general, the mean populations of Salmonella and EHEC on sprout and seedling tissues increased with the prolongation of germination time. Seed coats had the highest bacterial counts (4.00 to 4.06 log CFU/0.01 g), followed by the root (3.36 to 3.38 log CFU/0.01 g), cotyledon (3.13 to 3.38 log CFU/0.01 g), and stem tissues (2.67 to 2.84 log CFU/0.01 g). On average, tissue sections of fenugreek sprouts and lettuce seedlings had significantly higher (P < 0.05) numbers of Salmonella and EHEC cells than that of alfalfa sprouts and tomato seedlings. Data suggest that the growth and dissemination of Salmonella and EHEC cells on alfalfa, fenugreek, lettuce, and tomato sprout and seedling tissues are influenced by the type of vegetable seeds and sprout and seedling tissues involved. The study provides useful information on the fate of two important foodborne bacterial pathogens on selected vegetable seeds, contaminated by direct contact with inoculated soil, during the germination process.
- Vegetable seeds were contaminated via contact with pathogen-bearing sandy soil.
- Pathogens on contaminated seeds were recovered from tissues of sprouts and seedlings.
- Tomato and alfalfa tissues had lower pathogen counts than fenugreek and lettuce tissues.
- Seed coats had higher pathogen counts than the root and cotyledon tissues.
- Stem tissues had lower Salmonella/EHEC counts compared with all other tissues.