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Wrinkled Alfalfa Seeds Harbor More Aerobic Bacteria and Are More Difficult To Sanitize than Smooth Seeds

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At least 14 separate outbreaks of food poisoning attributed to either Salmonella enterica or Escherichia coli O157:H7 have been traced to sprouts in the past decade. Seeds contaminated with human pathogens caused most of these outbreaks, thus many sprout growers are now treating alfalfa seeds with the sanitizing agent, calcium hypochlorite (Ca[OCl]2), prior to sprouting. The efficacy of alfalfa seed sanitation varies between seed lots and between seeds within each lot. Alfalfa seeds from different seed lots were sorted by type in an effort to determine if certain seed types carry more aerobic bacteria than other seed types. Seeds with a wrinkled type, characteristic of lygus bug damage, had significantly higher levels of culturable aerobic bacteria and were more difficult to sanitize than smooth, healthy seeds. After sanitation, wrinkled alfalfa seeds that had been inoculated with S. enterica ser. Newport carried significantly higher levels of Salmonella Newport than smooth seeds. If S. enterica is present on wrinkled seeds in naturally contaminated seed lots, it may be difficult to chemically sanitize the seed lot. Removal of the wrinkled alfalfa seeds from the seed lots, perhaps by adapting color sorting equipment similar to that used to sort rice grains and other seeds, should reduce the level of aerobic bacteria in seed lots and may result in lower levels of human pathogens on contaminated alfalfa seeds.


Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Food Safety and Health, USDA, ARS, WRRC, 800 Buchanan Street, Albany, California 94710, USA

Publication date: September 1, 2001

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