Transfer efficacy of Escherichia coli O157:H7 between surfaces of green mature tomatoes and common food processing materials
Keywords:tomatoes, steel, vinyl conveyor belt, plastic, E. coli O157:H7, survival, transfer
The objectives of this study were: a) to evaluate E. coli O157:H7 survival on green mature tomatoes and squares of common food processing materials – stainless steel, plastic (HDPE), and vinyl conveyor belt (PVC) – post-drying, stored at 25 ºC in the humidified environment for four days; b) to determine pathogen transfer rates (wet, 90 minutes, or 24-hours drying post-inoculation), from inoculated tomato surfaces to uninoculated steel, plastic, and vinyl conveyor belt squares and conversely. It was shown that E. coli O157:H7 did not survive well on the surface of tomatoes, resulting in a decline from 5.3 log10 CFU.mL-1 90 minutes post-drying to 1.4 log10 CFU.mL-1 on day 4. Similarly, the pathogen did not survive well on the surface of food processing squares, with numbers declining over 4 days from 4.04, 4.44, and 4.19 CFU.mL-1 of rinsate 90 minutes squares post-drying to 0.72, 0.50, 0.83 log10 CFU.mL-1, which is close to the detection limit, for the steel, vinyl belt, and plastic, respectively. Successful cross-contamination between tomatoes and food processing surfaces was achieved during wet transfer; while transfer after 90 minutes inoculum post-drying and
24 hours were less successful. This can be explained by both lack of liquid media with suspended bacteria for transfer and fast pathogen die-off after desiccation. Dry transfers, as shown by the percentage of “positive” for pathogen presence tomatoes and squares, as well as bacterial counts, were more successful from tomatoes to squares, but not conversely. Special concern raised vinyl conveyor belt, where the surface picked up the most pathogen cells from the surface of tomatoes, resulting in 100% positive during 90 minute-dry transfers, followed by plastic (66.7% positive) and steel (55.6% positive). To summarize, we presented data on the possibility of cross-contamination between mature green tomatoes and common food processing surfaces, which may be interesting for the processors for risk evaluation.
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