Temperature abuse during commercial transport and retail sale of leafy greens negatively impacts both microbial safety and product quality. Consequently, the effect of fluctuating temperatures on Escherichia coli O157:H7 and Listeria monocytogenes growth in commercially-bagged salad greens was assessed during transport, retail storage, and display. Over a 16-month period, a series of time-temperature profiles for bagged salads were obtained from five transportation routes covering four geographic regions (432 profiles), as well as during retail storage (4,867 profiles) and display (3,799 profiles). Five different time-temperature profiles collected during 2 to 3 days of transport, 1 and 3 days of retail storage, and 3 days of retail display were then duplicated in a programmable incubator to assess E. coli O157:H7 and L. monocytogenes growth in commercial bags of romaine lettuce mix. Microbial growth predictions using the Koseki-Isobe and McKellar-Delaquis models were validated by comparing the root mean square error (RMSE), bias, and the acceptable prediction zone between the laboratory growth data and model predictions. Monte Carlo simulations were performed to calculate the probability distribution of microbial growth from 8,122,127,472 scenarios during transport, cold room storage, and retail display. Using inoculated bags of retail salad, E. coli O157:H7 and L. monocytogenes populations increased a maximum of 3.1 and 3.0 log CFU/g at retail storage. Both models yielded acceptable RMSEs and biases within the acceptable prediction zone for E. coli O157:H7. Based on the simulation, both pathogens generally increased <2 log CFU/g during transport, storage, and display. However, retail storage duration can significantly impact pathogen growth. This large-scale U.S. study—the first using commercial time/temperature profiles to assess the microbial risk of leafy greens—should be useful in filling some of the data gaps in current risk assessments for leafy greens.
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