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Internalization of Bacterial Pathogens in Tomatoes and Their Control by Selected Chemicals

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The effect of different washing or sanitizing agents was compared for preventing or reducing surface and internal contamination of tomatoes by Salmonella Typhimurium and Escherichia coli O157:H7. The tomatoes were inoculated by dipping them in a bacterial suspension containing approximately 6.0 log CFU/ml of each pathogen and then rinsing them with tap water, hypochlorite solution (250 mg/liter), or lactic acid solution (2%, wt/vol). All treatments were applied by dipping or spraying, and solutions were applied at 5, 25, 35, and 55°C. With the exception of the lactic acid dip at 5°C, all treatments reduced both pathogens on the surfaces of the tomatoes by at least 2.9 cycles. No significantly different results were obtained (P > 0.05) with the dipping and spraying techniques. For internalized pathogens, the mean counts for tomatoes treated with water alone or with chlorine ranged from 0.8 to 2.1 log CFU/g. In contrast, after lactic acid spray treatment, all core samples of tomatoes tested negative for Salmonella Typhimurium and, except for one sample with a low but detectable count, all samples tested negative for E. coli O157:H7 with a plate count method. When the absence of pathogens was verified by an enrichment method, Salmonella was not recovered from any samples, whereas two of four samples tested positive for E. coli O157:H7 even though the counts were negative. Few cells of internalized pathogens were able to survive in the center of the tomato during storage at room temperature (25 to 28°C). The average superficial pH of tomatoes treated with tap water, chlorine, or lactic acid was 4.9 to 5.2, 4.1 to 4.3, and 2.5, respectively (P < 0.05), whereas no differences were observed in the internal pH (3.6 to 3.7) of the tomatoes treated with different sanitizers. The general practice in the tomato industry is to wash the tomatoes in chlorinated water. However, chlorine is rapidly degraded by organic matter usually present in produce. Therefore, lactic acid sprays may be a more effective alternative for decontaminating tomato surfaces. The use of warm (55°C) sprays could reduce pathogen internalization during washing.

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Posgrado en Procesos Biotecnológicos, Universidad de Guadalajara, Guadalajara, Jalisco 44430, Mexico 2: Posgrado en Procesos Biotecnológicos, Universidad de Guadalajara, Guadalajara, Jalisco 44430, Mexico, Departamento de Farmacobiología, Universidad de Guadalajara, Guadalajara, Jalisco 44430, Mexico 3: Departamento de Farmacobiología, Universidad de Guadalajara, Guadalajara, Jalisco 44430, Mexico 4: Animal Science Department, Texas A&M University, College Station, Texas 77843-2471, USA

Publication date: July 1, 2004

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    The Journal of Food Protection (JFP) is a refereed monthly publication. Each issue contains scientific research and authoritative review articles reporting on a variety of topics in food science pertaining to food safety and quality. The Journal is internationally recognized as the leading publication in the field of food microbiology with a readership exceeding 11,000 scientists from 70 countries. The Journal of Food Protection is indexed in Index Medicus, Current Contents, BIOSIS, PubMed, Medline, and many others.

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