The process of washing tomatoes in dump (flume) tanks has been identified as a potential source of cross-contamination. This study’s objective was to assess the potential for Salmonella enterica cross-contamination at various inoculation levels at the presence of 0 and 25 mg/L free chlorine (HOCl) and organic matter. Uninoculated tomatoes were introduced into a laboratory-based model flume containing tomatoes inoculated with a cocktail of five rifampicin-resistant Salmonella enterica serovars at 104, 106, or 108 CFU/tomato in water containing 0 or 25 mg/L HOCl and 0 or 300 mg/L chemical oxygen demand (COD). Uninoculated tomatoes were removed from the water at after 5, 30, 60, 120 s and were placed in bags containing tryptic soy broth supplemented with rifampicin and 0.1% sodium thiosulfate. Following incubation, enrichments were plated on tryptic soy agar supplemented with rifampicin and xylose lysine deoxycholate agar to determine the presence of Salmonella. HOCl and pH were measured before and after each trial. The HOCl in water containing 300 mg/L COD significantly (P≤0.05) declined by the end of each 120 s trial, most likely due to the increased demand for the oxidant. Higher inoculum levels and lower HOCl concentrations were (P≤0.05) significant factors that contributed to increased cross-contamination seen in this study. When HOCl levels were at 25 mg/L, no Salmonella was recovered on non-inoculated tomatoes under all conditions when inoculum levels were at 104 CFU/tomato. When the inoculum was increased to 106 and 108 CFU/tomato, cross-contamination was observed, independent of COD levels. The results from this study show that the currently required sanitizer level (e.g., 100 or 150 mg/L) for flume water may be higher than necessary and warrants re-evaluation.
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