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Transfer of Escherichia coli O157:H7 to Romaine Lettuce due to Contact Water from Melting Ice

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Ice can be used to chill romaine lettuce and maintain relative humidity during transportation. Escherichia coli O157:H7 may contaminate water used for ice. The objective of this study was to determine the potential for E. coli O157:H7 contamination of romaine lettuce from either ice contaminated with the pathogen or by transfer from lettuce surfaces via melting ice. In experiment 1, lettuce was spot inoculated with E. coli O157:H7 and chilled with ice prepared from uncontaminated tap water. In experiment 2, water inoculated with this pathogen was frozen and used to ice lettuce. Three heads of lettuce were stacked in each container and stored at 4 or 20°C. After the ice melted, E. coli O157:H7 attachment to and recovery from the lettuce leaves were determined. For experiment 1, the population of E. coli O157:H7 attached to inoculated sites averaged 3.8 and 5.5 CFU/cm2 at 4 and 20°C, respectively. Most of the uninoculated sites became contaminated with the pathogen due to ice melt. For experiment 2, 3.5 to 3.8 log CFU E. coli O157:H7 per cm2 was attached to the top leaf on the first head. After rinsing with chlorinated water (200 μg/ml), E. coli O157:H7 remained on the surface of the top head (1.8 to 2.0 log CFU/cm2). There was no difference in numbers of E. coli O157:H7 recovered from each sampling site at 4 and 20°C. Results show that E. coli O157:H7 can be transferred onto other produce layers in shipping containers from melted ice made of contaminated water and from contaminated to uncontaminated leaf surfaces.

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Department of Food Science and Technology, University of Georgia, Athens, Georgia 30602, USA; Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition, Clemson University, Clemson, SC 29634, USA 2: Department of Food Science and Technology, University of Georgia, Athens, Georgia 30602, USA

Publication date: February 1, 2008

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