Fresh fruits and vegetables are frequently contaminated with bacterial pathogens and implicated in foodborne illnesses. The objective of this study was to develop a unique surface decontamination method for produce using sodium chlorite and an acid in a sequential treatment. The surfaces of cantaloupe rinds, peels of cucumbers, stem scars of grape tomatoes, and leaves of baby spinach were inoculated with Salmonella or Listeria monocytogenes at 5 to 6 log CFU/g, submerged in 1.6 to 4% sodium chlorite solutions for 10 or 30 min, dried for 20 min, and then soaked in 6 mM hydrogen chloride (HCl) for 10 or 30 min and dried for 20 min. Control samples were treated with deionized water, sodium chlorite, HCl, or a premixed solution of sodium chlorite and HCl for comparison. The control treatments reduced the levels of both pathogens on the samples by only 0.3 to 2.9 log CFU/g, whereas the sequential treatment caused significantly higher reductions (P < 0.05) of 5.1 to 5.6 log CFU/g, effectively eliminating the inoculated pathogens. The more effective decontamination resulting from the sequential treatment was attributed to the in situ formation of chlorine dioxide within the plant tissues under the surface by the reaction between sodium chlorite absorbed by the produce and HCl. These results suggest that the sequential use of sodium chlorite and acid is a potentially effective treatment for elimination of foodborne pathogens on produce.

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