Contamination by and persistence of pathogenic bacteria in ready-to-eat produce have emerged as significant food safety and public health concerns. Viable produceborne pathogens cope with several stresses (e.g., temperature fluctuations and low-temperature storage) during production and storage of the commodities. In this study, we investigated the impact of transient cold shock on Escherichia coli O157:H7 (EcO157) cells in a produce matrix (romaine lettuce leaf lysate). EcO157 cells were exposed to 25°C for 1 h, 4°C for 1 h, and 4°C for 10 min in lettuce lysate. The expression of selected genes coding for virulence, stress response, and heat and cold shock proteins was quantified by real-time quantitative reverse transcription PCR assay. Treated EcO157 cells adhered to MAC-T mammalian cells were enumerated by in vitro bioassay. Expression of the Shiga toxin 1 gene (stx1a) was upregulated significantly (P < 0.05) upon cold shock treatments, but virulence genes related to EcO157 attachment (eaeA, lpfA, and hcpA) were down-regulated. Two key members of the cold shock regulon, cold shock protein (cspA) and gyrA, were significantly induced (P < 0.05) at the refrigeration temperature (4°C). Significant upregulation of an SOS response gene, recA, was also observed. E. coli heat shock regulon member grpE was induced, but a universal stress protein (uspA) was down-regulated at the refrigeration temperatures in lettuce lysate. The adhesion assay revealed a temperature-dependent reduction in the attachment of cold-shocked EcO157 cells. The results of the current study indicate a reduction in the attachment of cold-shocked EcO157 to epithelial cells and higher levels of Shiga toxin gene expression at the molecular level.

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