ABSTRACT

Listeria monocytogenes causes relatively few outbreaks linked to whole fresh produce but triggers recalls each year in the United States. There are limited data on the influence of wet versus dry inoculation methods on pathogen growth on whole produce. A cocktail of five L. monocytogenes strains that included clinical, food, and environmental isolates associated with foodborne outbreaks and recalls was used. Cultures were combined to target a final wet inoculum concentration of 4 to 5 log CFU/mL. The dry inoculum was prepared by mixing wet inoculum with 100 g of sterile sand and drying for 24 h. Produce investigated belonged to major commodity families: Ericaceae (blackberry, raspberry, and blueberry), Rutaceae (lemon and mandarin orange), Rosaceae (sweet cherry), Solanaceae (tomato), Brassaceae (cauliflower and broccoli), and Apiaceae (carrot). Whole intact, inoculated fruit and vegetable commodities were incubated at 2, 12, 22, and 35 ± 2°C. Commodities were sampled for up to 28 days, and the experiment was replicated six times. The average maximum growth increase was obtained by measuring the maximum absolute increase for each replicate within a specific commodity, temperature, and inoculation method. Data for each commodity, replicate, and temperature were used to create primary growth or survival models describing the lag phase and growth or shoulder and decline as a function of time. Use of a liquid inoculum (versus dry inoculum) resulted in a markedly increased L. monocytogenes growth rate and growth magnitude on whole produce surfaces. Temperature highly influenced this difference: a greater effect seen with more commodities at higher temperatures (22 and 35°C) versus lower temperatures (2 and 12°C). These findings need to be explored for other commodities and pathogens. The degree to which wet or dry inoculation techniques more realistically mimic contamination conditions throughout the supply chain (e.g., production, harvest, postharvest, transportation, or retail) should be investigated.

HIGHLIGHTS
  • Inoculation method significantly effects L. monocytogenes growth on whole produce.

  • Inoculation method effect varies by commodity and storage temperature.

  • Carrots never show a significant difference between wet and dry inoculation.

  • Inoculation method effects often lie on opposite sides of a 1-log CFU increase.

  • Inoculation method has a significant effect on growth rate at higher temperatures.

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