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Quantitative Assessment of the Microbial Risk of Leafy Greens from Farm to Consumption: Preliminary Framework, Data, and Risk Estimates

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Abstract:

This project was undertaken to relate what is known about the behavior of Escherichia coli O157:H7 under laboratory conditions and integrate this information to what is known regarding the 2006 E. coli O157:H7 spinach outbreak in the context of a quantitative microbial risk assessment. The risk model explicitly assumes that all contamination arises from exposure in the field. Extracted data, models, and user inputs were entered into an Excel spreadsheet, and the modeling software @RISK was used to perform Monte Carlo simulations. The model predicts that cut leafy greens that are temperature abused will support the growth of E. coli O157:H7, and populations of the organism may increase by as much a 1 log CFU/day under optimal temperature conditions. When the risk model used a starting level of −1 log CFU/g, with 0.1% of incoming servings contaminated, the predicted numbers of cells per serving were within the range of best available estimates of pathogen levels during the outbreak. The model predicts that levels in the field of −1 log CFU/g and 0.1% prevalence could have resulted in an outbreak approximately the size of the 2006 E. coli O157:H7 outbreak. This quantitative microbial risk assessment model represents a preliminary framework that identifies available data and provides initial risk estimates for pathogenic E. coli in leafy greens. Data gaps include retail storage times, correlations between storage time and temperature, determining the importance of E. coli O157:H7 in leafy greens lag time models, and validation of the importance of cross-contamination during the washing process.

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.4315/0362-028X.JFP-10-373

Affiliations: 1: Citrus Research and Education Center, Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition, University of Florida, 700 Experiment Station Road, Lake Alfred, Florida 33850, USA 2: Food Science Department, Rutgers University, 65 Dudley Road, New Brunswick, New Jersey 08301, USA

Publication date: May 1, 2011

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