Abstract: The effect of calcinated calcium spray on Escherichia coli O157:H7 87–23 population reduction during radish sprout production was studied. Artificially inoculated radish seeds were soaked in sodium hypochlorite (NaOCl) solutions (200 and 20000 ppm), rinsed in distilled water, and sprayed with water or a calcinated calcium solution during sprouting. Microbial plate count was obtained at each step of the process and germination rate was determined after 72 h of sprouting. Scanning electron microscopy (SEM) was done on treated seeds and sprouts to locate which parts were populated by the E. coli cells. The results showed that the active compound in the calcinated calcium was calcium oxide. The treatment of 200 ppm NaOCl soaking followed by 0.04% calcinated calcium spray resulted in no microbial growth after a 72-h sprouting, while maintaining a high germination rate. The 0.4% calcinated calcium spray significantly reduced the germination rate and is therefore not recommended. Soaking the seeds in a 20000 ppm chlorine solution achieved the highest E. coli count reduction (1.65 log CFU/g). However, the E. coli cells that survived the 20000 ppm chlorine soak grew to 6 log CFU/g sprouts after a 72-h sprouting, significantly higher than the initial count on the seeds. The SEM microimages showed that the bacteria were mostly located in the roots of the radish sprouts and all across the seed surface. The E. coli O157:H7 87–23 cells appeared to be located in biofilms or embedded into the radish sprout tissues during sprouting.
Practical Application: The seed sanitation treatment with 20000 ppm chlorine solution that is currently used by the sprout industry was once again found to be ineffective in eliminating inoculated pathogenic cells. More importantly, the remaining cells that have survived the chlorine wash would grow during sprouting to reach an alarmingly high cell concentration. The new observation of E. coli cells and sprout tissue interaction manifested as embedding of the cells in sprout tissues, if confirmed, will have a significant impact on the microbial safety intervention strategies used in the sprout industry. This research demonstrated the importance of eliminating all pathogens on the seeds before germination and sprouting.