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Effect of storage temperature and duration on the behavior of Escherichia coli O157:H7 on packaged fresh-cut salad containing romaine and iceberg lettuce

Effect of storage temperature and duration on the behavior of Escherichia coli O157:H7 on packaged fresh-cut salad containing romaine and iceberg lettuce

Journal of Food Science 75(7): M390-M397

This study investigated the impact of storage temperature and duration on the fate of Escherichia coli O157:H7 on commercially packaged lettuce salads, and on product quality. Fresh-cut Romaine and Iceberg lettuce salads of different commercial brands were obtained from both retail and wholesale stores. The packages were cut open at one end, the lettuce salad inoculated with E. coli O157:H7 via a fine mist spray, and resealed with or without an initial N(2) flush to match the original package atmospheric levels. The products were stored at 5 and 12 °C until their labeled "Best If Used By" dates, and the microbial counts and product quality were monitored periodically. The results indicate that storage at 5 °C allowed E. coli O157:H7 to survive, but limited its growth, whereas storage at 12 °C facilitated the proliferation of E. coli O157:H7. There was more than 2.0 log CFU/g increase in E. coli O157:H7 populations on lettuce when held at 12 °C for 3 d, followed by additional growth during the remainder of the storage period. Although there was eventually a significant decline in visual quality of lettuce held at 12 °C, the quality of this lettuce was still fully acceptable when E. coli O157:H7 growth reached a statistically significant level. Therefore, maintaining fresh-cut products at 5 °C or below is critical for reducing the food safety risks as E. coli O157:H7 grows at a rapid, temperature-dependent rate prior to significant quality deterioration. Specific information regarding the effect of temperature on pathogen growth on leafy greens is needed to develop science-based food safety guidelines and practices by the regulatory agencies and produce industry. Temperature control is commonly thought to promote quality of leafy greens, not safety, based at least partially on a theory that product quality deterioration precedes pathogen growth at elevated temperatures. This prevalent attitude results in temperature abuse incidents being frequently overlooked in the supply chain. This study demonstrates that human pathogens, such as E. coli O157:H7, can grow significantly on commercially packaged lettuce salads while the product's visual quality is fully acceptable. Packaged fresh-cut salads are marketed as "ready-to-eat" while lacking an effective pathogen kill step during their preparation. Thus, maintaining storage temperature at 5 °C or below is critical to prevent pathogen proliferation and mitigate food safety risks should pathogen contamination inadvertently occur during crop growth or postharvest fresh-cut processing.

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Accession: 052829926

Download citation: RISBibTeXText

PMID: 21535546

DOI: 10.1111/j.1750-3841.2010.01722.x

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