Persistence of Escherichia coli on injured iceberg lettuce in the field, overhead irrigated with contaminated water

Fiona Barker-Reid, Dean Harapas, Siegfried Engleitner, Simone Kreidl, Robert Holmes, Robert Faggian

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52 Citations (Scopus)


Fresh produce is increasingly implicated in food-related illnesses. Escherichia coli can survive in soil and water and can be transferred onto plant surfaces through farm management practices such as irrigation. A trial was conducted to evaluate the impact of field conditions on E. coli persistence on iceberg lettuce irrigated with contaminated water, and the impact of plant injury on the persistence of E. coli. Lettuce heads were injured at 14, 7, 3, 2, 1, and 0 days before inoculation, with uninjured heads used as a control. All lettuce heads (including controls) were overhead irrigated with a mixture of nonpathogenic E. coli strains (107 CFU/ml). E. coli counts were measured on the day of inoculation and 5 days after, and E. coli was detected on all lettuce head samples. Injury immediately prior to inoculation and harvest significantly (P = 0.00067) increased persistence of E. coli on lettuce plants. Harsh environmental conditions (warm temperatures, limited rainfall) over 5 days resulted in a 2.2-log reduction in E. coli counts on uninjured lettuce plants, and lettuce plants injured more than 2 days prior to inoculation had similar results. Plants with more recent injuries (up to 2 days prior to inoculation) had significantly (P = 7.6 × 10-6) greater E. coli persistence. Therefore, growers should postpone contaminated water irrigation of lettuce crops with suspected injuries for a minimum of 2 days, or if unavoidable, use the highest microbiological quality of water available, to minimize food safety risks. 

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)458-464
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Food Protection
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2009
Externally publishedYes

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