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Int J Food Microbiol. 2005 Mar 1;99(1):7-18.

Interactions of Escherichia coli O157:H7, Salmonella typhimurium and Listeria monocytogenes plants cultivated in a gnotobiotic system.

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  • 1Department of Food Science, University of Guelph, Guelph, ON, Canada N1G 2W1.

Abstract

The growth and persistence of Escherichia coli O157:H7, Salmonella typhimurium and Listeria monocytogenes on a diverse range of plant types over extended cultivation periods was studied. When introduced on the seed of carrot, cress, lettuce, radish, spinach and tomato all the pathogens became rapidly established shortly after germination, attaining cell densities of the order of 5.5-6.5 log cfu/g. In general, Es. coli O157:H7 and L. monocytogenes became established and persisted at significantly higher levels on seedlings (9 days post-germination) than Salmonella. Es. coli O157:H7 became internalized in cress, lettuce, radish and spinach seedlings but was not recovered within the tissues of mature plants. Internalization of Salmonella was also observed in lettuce and radish but not cress or spinach seedlings. In contrast, L. monocytogenes did not internalize within seedlings but did persist on the surface of plants throughout the cultivation period. Co-inoculation of isolates recovered from the rhizosphere of plants did not significantly affect the numbers or persistence of human pathogens. The only exception was with Enterobacter cloacae, which reduced Es. coli O157:H7 Ph1 and L. monocytogenes levels by ca. 1 log cfu/g on lettuce. With the bioluminescent phenotype of Es. coli O157:H7 Ph1, it was demonstrated that the human pathogen became established on the roots of growing plants. Scanning electron micrographs of root seedlings suggested that Es. coli O157:H7 Ph1 preferentially colonized the root junctions of seedlings. It is proposed that such colonization sites enhanced the persistence of Es. coli O157:H7 on plants and facilitated internalization within developing seedlings. The results suggest that the risk associated with internalized human pathogens in salad vegetables at harvest is low. Nevertheless, the introduction of human pathogens at an early stage of plant development could enhance their persistence in the rhizosphere. The implications of the study with regards to on-farm food safety initiatives are discussed.

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