Survival of Pathogenic Escherichia Coli on Basil, Lettuce, and Spinach

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Summary

The contamination of lettuce, spinach and basil with pathogenic E. coli has caused numerous illnesses over the past decade. E. coli O157:H7, E. coli O104:H4 and avian pathogenic E. coli (APECstx- and APECstx+) were inoculated on basil plants and in promix substrate using drip and overhead irrigation. When overhead inoculated with 7 log CFU/ml of each strain, E. coli populations were significantly (= 0.03) higher on overhead-irrigated plants than on drip-irrigated plants. APECstx-, E. coli O104:H4 and APECstx+ populations were recovered on plants at 3.6, 2.3 and 3.1 log CFU/g at 10 dpi (days post-inoculation), respectively. E. coli O157:H7 was not detected on basil after 4 dpi. The persistence of E. coli O157:H7 and APECstx- were similar when co-inoculated on lettuce and spinach plants. On spinach and lettuce, E. coli O157:H7 and APEC populations declined from 5.7 to 6.1 log CFU/g and 4.5 log CFU/g, to undetectable at 3 dpi and 0.6–1.6 log CFU/g at 7 dpi, respectively. The detection of low populations of APEC and E. coli O104:H4 strains 10 dpi indicates these strains may be more adapted to environmental conditions than E. coli O157:H7. This is the first reported study of E. coli O104:H4 on a produce commodity.

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