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Potential uptake of Escherichia coli O157:H7 and Listeria monocytogenes from growth substrate into leaves of salad plants and basil grown in soil irrigated with contaminated water

Chitarra, Walter, Decastelli, Lucia, Garibaldi, Angelo, Gullino, Maria Lodovica
International journal of food microbiology 2014 v.189 pp. 139-145
Escherichia coli O157, Listeria monocytogenes, Valerianella locusta, active ingredients, anti-infective agents, autoclaving, bacteria, basil, food safety, foodborne illness, harvest date, humans, intestinal microorganisms, irrigated soils, irrigation water, leaves, lettuce, markets, pathogens, raw vegetables, risk, root exudates, roots, salads, temperature, water pollution
Outbreaks of foodborne illness, resulting from the consumption of fresh produce contaminated with human pathogens, are increasing. Potential uptake and persistence of human pathogens within edible parts of consumed fresh vegetables become an important issue in food safety. This study was conducted to assess the potential uptake and internalization of Escherichia coli O157:H7 and Listeria monocytogenes from an autoclaved substrate into edible parts of basil and baby salad plants (lettuce, cultivated rocket, wild rocket and corn salad) from 20 to 60–80days after inoculation, when plants are ready to be harvested and commercialized. Plants were grown in mesocosms under different temperature conditions (24°C and 30°C) and the growing substrate was inoculated using contaminated irrigation water (7logCFU/mL). E. coli O157:H7 could be internalized in the leaves of the tested leafy vegetables through the roots and persist up to the harvesting time with negligible differences between 24°C and 30°C. Significant decreases in pathogen titers were observed over time in the growing substrate on which the plants grew, until the last sampling time. In contrast, L. monocytogenes internalized and persisted only in lettuce mesocosms at 24°C. Neither pathogen was observed in basil leaves. Similarly, in basil growing substrates, enteric bacteria were undetectable at the end of the experiments, suggesting that basil plants may produce and release antimicrobial compounds active against both bacteria in root exudates. These results suggest that enteric bacteria are able to persist within baby salad leaves up to market representing a risk for consumer's health.