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Evaluation of post-contamination survival and persistence of applied attenuated E. coli O157:H7 and naturally-contaminating E. coli O157:H7 on spinach under field conditions and following postharvest handling

Gutiérrez-Rodríguez, Eduardo, Gundersen, Amy, Sbodio, Adrian, Koike, Steven, Suslow, Trevor V.
Food microbiology 2019 v.77 pp. 173-184
Escherichia coli O157, Weibull statistics, analytical kits, die-off, growing season, inoculum, pathogens, petioles, population density, postharvest treatment, protocols, quantitative polymerase chain reaction, spinach, washing, California
This study determined the variability in population uniformity of an applied mixture of attenuated E. coli O157:H7 (attEcO157) on spinach leaves as impacted by sampling mass and detection technique over spatial and temporal conditions. Opportunistically, the survival and distribution of naturally contaminating pathogenic E. coli O157:H7 (EcO157), in a single packaged lot following commercial postharvest handling and washing, was also evaluated. From the main study outcomes, differences in the applied inoculum dose of 100-fold, resulted in indistinguishable population densities of approximately Log 1.1 CFU g−1 by 14 days post-inoculation (DPI). Composite leaf samples of 150 g and the inclusion of the spinach petiole resulted in the greatest numerical sensitivity of detection of attEcO157 when compared to 25 and 150 g samples without petioles (P < 0.05). Differences in population density and protected-site survival and potential leaf internalization were observed between growing seasons and locations in California (P < 0.05). A Double Weibull model best described and identified two distinct populations with different inactivation rates of the inoculated attEcO157. Linear die-off rates varied between 0.14 and 0.29 Log/Day irrespective of location. Detection of EcO157- stx1-negative and stx2-positive, resulting from a natural contamination event, was observed in 11 of 26 quarantined commercial units of washed spinach by applying the 150 g sample mass protocol. The capacity to detect EcO157 varied between commercial test kits and non-commercial qPCR. Our findings suggest the need for modifications to routine pathogen sampling protocols employed for lot acceptance of spinach and other leafy greens.