Abstract: It has been reported that washing seeds with a 20000 ppm Ca(OCl)2 solution as recommended by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is unable to eliminate E. coli cells attached to seed surfaces, and the bacterial cells that have survived a sanitation wash can proliferate during sprouting to a high population. The objectives of this research were to examine the efficacy of malic acid (MA) and thiamine dilauryl sulfate (TDS) combined treatments on the inactivation of E. coli O157:H7 on alfalfa seeds, to study the growth of the remaining E. coli cells during sprouting, and to evaluate the sprout quality. When 10 g of inoculated alfalfa seeds were washed in a 10% MA-1% TDS solution, a complete elimination of E. coli was achieved. The same result was observed by washing the seeds in a 20000 ppm Ca(OCl)2 solution. However, when the seed size was increased to 50 g while maintaining the same seed-to-sanitizer ratio, both the MA + TDS and the 20000 ppm chlorine washes failed to completely inactivate the E. coli cells on the seeds. Nevertheless, the 10% MA-1% TDS solution was significantly more effective in E. coli count reduction compared to the 20000 ppm chlorine wash. The E. coli O157:H7 cells remaining on the seeds after treatments with both sanitizers grew up to 7 to 8 log CFU/g sprout after 96 h of sprouting. Under the treatment conditions used in this study, none of the treatments resulted in significant differences in germination rate, yield, or quality of the sprouts.
Practical Application: The malic acid (MA) and thiamine dilauryl sulfate (TDS) combined treatment may provide a new solution to secure the microbial safety of seeds and sprouts. An important finding of this study is that seed sample size has a significant impact on the inactivation of E. coli O157:H7 on alfalfa seeds. The microbial inactivation results obtained in a laboratory set-up cannot be directly applied to a large scale operation. A validation test on the large scale has to be performed to evaluate the efficacy of the sanitizer.