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Quantitative Transfer of Escherichia coli O157:H7 to Equipment during Small-Scale Production of Fresh-Cut Leafy Greens

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Postharvest contamination and subsequent spread of Escherichia coli O157:H7 can occur during shredding, conveying, fluming, and dewatering of fresh-cut leafy greens. This study quantified E. coli O157:H7 transfer from leafy greens to equipment surfaces during simulated small-scale commercial processing. Three to five batches (22.7 kg) of baby spinach, iceberg lettuce, and romaine lettuce were dip inoculated with a four-strain cocktail of avirulent, green fluorescent protein–labeled, ampicillinresistant E. coli O157:H7 to contain ∼106, 104, and 102 CFU/g, and then were processed after 1 h of draining at ∼23°C or 24 h of storage at 4°C. Lettuce was shredded using an Urschel TransSlicer at two different blade and belt speeds to obtain normal (5 by 5 cm) and more finely shredded (0.5 by 5 cm) lettuce. Thereafter, the lettuce was step conveyed to a flume tank and was washed and then dried using a shaker table and centrifugal dryer. Product (25-g) and water (40-ml) samples were collected at various points during processing. After processing, product contact surfaces (100 cm2) on the shredder (n = 14), conveyer (n = 8), flume tank (n = 11), shaker table (n = 9), and centrifugal dryer (n = 8) were sampled using one-ply composite tissues. Sample homogenates diluted in phosphate or neutralizing buffer were plated, with or without prior 0.45- m m membrane filtration, on Trypticase soy agar containing 0.6% yeast extract supplemented with 100 ppm of ampicillin to quantify green fluorescent protein–labeled E. coli O157:H7 under UV light. During leafy green processing, ∼90% of the E. coli O157:H7 inoculum transferred to the wash water. After processing, E. coli O157:H7 populations were highest on the conveyor and shredder (P<0.05), followed by the centrifugal dryer, flume tank, and shaker table, with ∼29% of the remaining product inoculum lost during centrifugal drying. Overall, less (P<0.05) of the inoculum remained on the product after centrifugally drying iceberg lettuce that was held for 1 h (8.13%) as opposed to 24 h (42.18%) before processing, with shred size not affecting the rate of E. coli O157:H7 transfer.

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: 1: Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition, Michigan State University, East Lansing, Michigan 48824, USA 2: Department of Biosystems and Agricultural Engineering, Michigan State University, East Lansing, Michigan 48824, USA 3: Department of Advertising, Public Relations and Retailing, Michigan State University, East Lansing, Michigan 48824, USA 4: Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition, Michigan State University, East Lansing, Michigan 48824, USA.

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