Abstract: The prevalence of foodborne illnesses is continually on rise. In the U.S.A., Escherichia coli O157:H7 (E. coli) has been associated with several outbreaks in minimally processed foods. Spinach and lettuce pose higher food safety risks and recurring food recalls suggest the insufficiency of current disinfection strategies. We aimed at offering a natural antimicrobial alternative using organic acids (malic, tartaric, and lactic acids [MA, TA, and LA, respectively]) and grape seed extract (GSE) and a novel application method using electrostatic spraying to evenly distribute the antimicrobials onto produce. Spinach and lettuce samples were washed, sanitized with sodium hypochlorite solution (6.25 mL/L), dip inoculated in water containing E. coli (7.0 log CFU/mL) for 24 h, and rewashed with sterile water to remove nonadhered pathogens. The samples were sprayed electrostatically with MA, LA, and GSE alone and in combinations and for comparison, with phosphoric acid (PA) and pH controls with deionized water adjusted to 1.5/2.3/3.6 and stored at 4 °C. When combined with LA (3%), MA (3%) showed 2.1 to 4.0 log CFU/g reduction of E. coli between the days 1 and 14 on spinach and 1.1 to 2.5 log CFU/g reduction on lettuce. Treatment with PA (1.5%) and PA (1.5%)–GSE (2%) exhibited 1.1 to 2.1 log CFU/g inhibition of E. coli on spinach during the 14-d storage. Our findings demonstrated the efficacy of electrostatic spraying of MA, LA, and GSE on fresh produce to improve the safety and lower the public health burden linked to produce contamination.
Practical Application: Electrostatic spraying is an emerging technique that can be adopted to improve the distribution and application of antimicrobials during fresh produce sanitation. Relatively simple and quick, the process can access most/all parts of produce surface and offer protection from food pathogens. The use of malic and lactic acids with or without grape seed extract can serve as effective antimicrobials when sprayed electrostatically, lowering the risk from postcontamination issues with spinach and iceberg lettuce. This application technology can be extended to improve the commercial food safety of other produce, fruits, poultry, and meat.