Contaminated coring tools may transfer bacteria to iceberg lettuce. The efficiency of coring tool design modifications in reducing bacterial transfer to lettuce heads was evaluated under simulated field operations. The standard coring tool consists of a stainless steel cylindrical tube welded to a tab that is inserted into a plastic handle. Design modifications included removal of the welded portion, incorporation of a shorter front straight bottom edge, or an angled bottom edge toward the front. In the first study, coring tools of four different designs were inoculated by dipping in a tryptic soy broth (TSB) suspension that contained 8.85 Log CFU/mL of Escherichia coli K-12 and then were used to core 100 lettuce heads, consecutively. Use of the standard tool resulted in 91% ± 9% positive lettuce heads. Removing the welded surface from the standard tool resulted in the highest reduction of E. coli transfer (44% ± 11.9% positive lettuce heads, P < 0.05), whereas incorporation of a short front straight edge with no welding resulted in 65.6% ± 5.6% of the cored lettuce heads being positive for E. coli. Removal of the welded surface resulted in a 40% decrease in E. coli contamination among the last 20 cored lettuce heads (81 to 100), which indicates that coring tool design modifications resulted in reduced cross-contamination. In the second study, the transfer of Salmonella to coring tools after their immersion in rinsing solutions was evaluated using imaging. The tools were dip inoculated for 2 min in water, water with lettuce extract, or TSB containing 7 Log CFU/mL bioluminescent Salmonella Newport; they were then imaged to observe spatial distribution of bacteria. There was greater retention and spatial distribution of Salmonella on the surface of tools immersed in water containing lettuce extract than in TSB and water. The results of the second study indicate that rinsing solutions that contain lettuce particulate and organic load could facilitate cross-contamination of Salmonella Newport to tool surfaces.

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