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Int J Food Microbiol. 2011 May 27;147(2):105-11. doi: 10.1016/j.ijfoodmicro.2011.03.015. Epub 2011 Mar 29.

Occurrence and diversity of free-living protozoa on butterhead lettuce.

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Department of Veterinary Public Health and Food Safety, Ghent University, Salisburylaan, Merelbeke, Belgium.


The occurrence and diversity of free-living protozoa (FLP) on butterhead lettuce (Lactuca sativa L.) was investigated using four different sampling techniques (washing, swabbing, homogenization, and excising). FLP were recovered from all leaf samples (n=64), and cultures were FLP-positive after 1 week. Identification of FLP was performed by light microscopy and sequencing of denaturing gradient gel electrophoresis (DGGE)-separated 18S rRNA gene fragments. Bodo saltans, Spumella (-like) spp. and Cercozoa were the most common heterotrophic nanoflagellates. Amoebae belonged mainly to the Vannellida and Tubulinida. Colpoda steinii and Cyclidium glaucoma were the most common ciliates. The total number of FLP on middle leaves estimated by the Most Probable Number method ranged from 9.3 × 10(2)MPN/g to 2.4 × 10(5)MPN/g leaf, with flagellates (92 MPN/g to 2.4 ×10(5)MPN/g) being more abundant than amoebae (<3 MPN/g to 9.3 × 10(3)MPN/g) and ciliates (<3 MPN/g to 9.3 × 10(2)MPN/g). Washing or rinsing leaves followed by spin-drying in a household salad spinner reduced the protozoan number with maximum one log unit. Our survey shows that FLP on lettuce leaves are a common and diverse but largely unexplored group of microorganisms.

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