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Fresh-Cut Lettuce in Modified Atmosphere Packages Stored at Improper Temperatures Supports Enterohemorrhagic E. coli Isolates to Survive Gastric Acid Challenge

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Incidences of foodborne outbreaks involving enterohemorrhagic Escherichia coli strains with mutations in a key regulatory gene, rpoS, have been reported. Incentives, if any, for losing this regulatory function are not clear since the RpoS regulator is required for the expression of several environmental stress tolerance genes. RpoS also positively regulates 2 of the 3 acid-resistance systems of E. coli under aerobic growth conditions and enables the pathogen to survive gastric acid challenge. We selected 7 enterohemorrhagic E. coli isolates, 6 of which are known to carry defective rpoS gene, and then analyzed resistance to synthetic gastric juice after the strains were inoculated on fresh-cut lettuce and stored under modified atmosphere packaging (MAP) conditions. Subatmospheric oxygen partial pressures in MAP enabled all 6 rpoS-defective isolates to induce acid resistance over the 8-d storage period if the temperature was ≥ 15 °C. No acid resistance was induced for MAP-stored lettuce left at temperatures ≤ 10 °C or for lettuce packed and stored under aerobic conditions. The data underscore the impending danger of abusive storage temperatures especially with regard to the application of MAP to extend the shelf life of fresh produce. The results also highlight the biological significance of having multiple acid-resistance pathways and the complex regulatory network of enterohemorrhagic E. coli strains.
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Keywords: food safety; shelf life; temperature abuse

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: April 1, 2008

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