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Appl Environ Microbiol. 2002 Jul;68(7):3614-21.

Fitness of Salmonella enterica serovar Thompson in the cilantro phyllosphere.

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Produce Safety and Microbiology Research Unit, Agricultural Research Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture, 800 Buchanan Street, Albany, CA 94710, USA.


The epiphytic fitness of Salmonella enterica was assessed on cilantro plants by using a strain of S. enterica serovar Thompson that was linked to an outbreak resulting from cilantro. Salmonella serovar Thompson had the ability to colonize the surface of cilantro leaves, where it was detected by confocal laser scanning microscopy (CLSM) at high densities on the veins and in natural lesions. The population sizes of two common colonizers of plant surfaces, Pantoea agglomerans and Pseudomonas chlororaphis, were 10-fold higher than that of the human pathogen on cilantro incubated at 22 degrees C. However, Salmonella serovar Thompson achieved significantly higher population levels and accounted for a higher proportion of the total culturable bacterial flora on cilantro leaves when the plants were incubated at warm temperatures, such as 30 degrees C, after inoculation, indicating that the higher growth rates exhibited by Salmonella serovar Thompson at warm temperatures may increase the competitiveness of this organism in the phyllosphere. The tolerance of Salmonella serovar Thompson to dry conditions on plants at 60% relative humidity was at least equal to that of P. agglomerans and P. chlororaphis. Moreover, after exposure to low humidity on cilantro, Salmonella serovar Thompson recovered under high humidity to achieve its maximum population size in the cilantro phyllosphere. Visualization by CLSM of green fluorescent protein-tagged Salmonella serovar Thompson and dsRed-tagged P. agglomerans inoculated onto cilantro revealed that the human pathogen and the bacterial epiphyte formed large heterogeneous aggregates on the leaf surface. Our studies support the hypothesis that preharvest contamination of crops by S. enterica plays a role in outbreaks linked to fresh fruits and vegetables.

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