• Escherichia coli O157:H7;
  • fresh produce;
  • persistence;
  • soil;
  • spinach


Aims:  Survival of Escherichia coli O157:H7 and nonpathogenic E. coli on spinach leaves and in organic soil while growing spinach in a growth chamber was investigated.

Methods and Results:  Spinach plants were maintained in the growth chamber at 20°C (14 h) and 18°C (10 h) settings at 60% relative humidity. Five separate inocula, each containing one strain of E. coli O157:H7 and one nonpathogenic E. coli isolate were applied to individual 4-week-old spinach plants (cultivar ‘Whale’) grown in sandy soil. Leaf and soil inocula consisted of 100 μl, in 5 μl droplets, on the upper side of leaves resulting in 6·5 log CFU plant−1 and 1 ml in soil, resulting in 6·5 log CFU 200 g−1 soil per plant. Four replicates of each plant shoot and soil sample per inoculum were analysed on day 1 and every 7 days for 28 days for E. coli O157:H7 and nonpathogenic E. coli (by MPN) and for heterotrophic plate counts (HPC). Escherichia coli O157:H7 was not detected on plant shoots after 7 days but did survive in soil for up to 28 days. Nonpathogenic E. coli survived up to 14 days on shoots and was detected at low concentrations for up to 28 days. In contrast, there were no significant differences in HPC from days 0 to 28 on plants, except one treatment on day 7.

Conclusions: Escherichia coli O157:H7 persisted in soil for at least 28 days. Escherichia coli O157:H7 on spinach leaves survived for less than 14 days when co-inoculated with nonpathogenic E. coli. There was no correlation between HPC and E. coli O157:H7 or nonpathogenic E. coli.

Significance and Impact of the Study:  The persistence of nonpathogenic E. coli isolates makes them possible candidates as surrogates for E. coli O157:H7 on spinach leaves in field trials.