Research – Escherichia coli Survival on Strawberries and Unpacked Romaine Lettuce Washed Using Contaminated Water

MDPI

A number of foodborne outbreaks have occurred in the past decade, with higher incidences associated with romaine lettuce and strawberries. Contaminated agricultural water has been reported as the source of microbial contamination in most of these outbreaks. Maintaining the adequate and sanitary quality (0 E. coli/100 mL) of agricultural water can be challenging during post-harvest operations such as washing. The study focused on the attachment of generic E. coli (Rifampicin resistant) onto romaine lettuce and strawberries, mimicking the produce wash step. The produce was washed with contaminated water, air-dried, and stored in display units for 7 days. The produce was sampled randomly each day and analyzed for the surviving E. coli count. The results indicated that E. coli can survive in both lettuce and strawberries over extended periods. A survival population of 2.3 log CFU/cm2 (day 8) was observed on lettuce with an initial population of 2.8 log CFU/cm2 (day 0). On strawberries, the population reduced from 3.0 (day 0) to 1.7 log CFU/cm2 (day 7), with an initial E. coli concentration of approx. 6 log CFU/mL in the wash water. Strawberry leaves had a higher attachment of E. coli than the fruit (p < 0.05). In conclusion, romaine lettuce and strawberries washed with contaminated water can cause an outbreak affecting consumers and public health. View Full-Text

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