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Keywords:

  • growth;
  • inactivation;
  • jalapeño peppers;
  • localization;
  • Salmonella Saintpaul

Abstract:  Consumption of Salmonella-contaminated jalapeño peppers has been implicated in one of the largest foodborne illness outbreaks in the summer of 2008. The objective of this study was to investigate representative groups of native microflora and the distribution, growth, and inactivation of experimentally-inoculated Salmonella Saintpaul on jalapeño peppers. Two genetically modified strains of Salm. Saintpaul producing either green- or red-fluorescent protein were constructed and used in the study. Microbiological analyses showed that jalapeño peppers contained an average of 5.6 log units of total aerobic count and 3.5, 1.8, and 1.9 log units, respectively, of enterobacteriaceae, lactic acid bacteria, and yeast/mold per gram of tissue. Strains typical of Pseudomonas accounted for 8.3% of total aerobic count, and 0.2% of which exhibited pectolytic activity. On inoculated peppers, a vast majority (>90%) of Salm. Saintpaul was recovered from stem/calyx and only a small proportion recovered from fleshy pods. Growth of Salm. Saintpaul on peppers was indicated by an increase in the population of 3 log units after incubation of samples at 20 °C for 48 h. Fluorescent Salm. Saintpaul aggregates could be readily detected on stem/calyx using stereofluorescence imaging microscopy and scanning electron microscopy. Data presented showed that Salm. Saintpaul could survive for at least 8 wk on peppers stored at 4 °C. Immersion of inoculated peppers in 200 ppm of sodium hypochlorite, acidified sodium chlorite, or peroxy acetic acid for 10 min could reduce the number of Salm. Saintpaul on stem/calyx by 1.5 to 1.7 and that on flesh by 2.1 to 2.4 log units.

Practical Application:  Consumption of Salmonella-contaminated jalapeño peppers has been implicated in foodborne illness outbreaks. The vast majority of Salmonella Saintpaul recovered from inoculated jalapeño peppers (>90%) was from stem/calyx. Salmonella increased by 3 log units during storage at 68 °F (20 °C) for 48 h. Salmonella could survive for at least 8 wk on peppers stored at 4 °C. Immersion of inoculated peppers in 200 ppm of sodium hypochlorite, acidified sodium chlorite, or peroxyacetic acid for 10 min reduced Salmonella on stem/calyx by 1.5 to 1.7 log units, compared with reductions of 2.1 to 2.4 log units on flesh. These results highlight the need to consider the stem/calyx as the most likely area for contamination of jalapeño peppers, and to process this commodity accordingly to minimize exposure and cross-contaminations.