Research – Survival of Escherichia coli and Listeria innocua on Lettuce after Irrigation with Contaminated Water in a Temperate Climate

MDPI

Microbial disease outbreaks related to fresh produce consumption, including leafy green vegetables, have increased in recent years. Where contamination occurs, pathogen persistence may represent a risk for consumers’ health. This study analysed the survival of E. coli and L. innocua on lettuce plants watered with contaminated irrigation water via a single irrigation event and within stored irrigation water. Separate lettuce plants (Lactuca sativa var. capitata) were irrigated with water spiked with Log10 7 cfu/mL of each of the two strains and survival assessed via direct enumeration, enrichment and qPCR. In parallel, individual 20 L water microcosms were spiked with Log10 7 cfu/mL of the individual strains and sampled at similar time points. Both strains were observed to survive on lettuce plants up to 28 days after inoculation. Direct quantification by culture methods showed a Log10 4 decrease in the concentration of E. coli 14 days after inoculation, and a Log10 3 decrease in the concentration of L. innocua 10 days after inoculation. E. coli was detected in water samples up to 7 days after inoculation and L. innocua was detected up to 28 days by direct enumeration. Both strains were recovered from enriched samples up to 28 days after inoculation. These results demonstrate that E. coli and L. innocua strains are able to persist on lettuce after a single contamination event up until the plants reach a harvestable state. Furthermore, the persistence of E. coli and L. innocua in water for up to 28 days after inoculation illustrates the potential for multiple plant contamination events from stored irrigation water, emphasising the importance of ensuring that irrigation water is of a high quality. View Full-Text

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