ABSTRACT

Fresh produce continues to be the main source of foodborne illness outbreaks in the United States, implicating bacterial pathogens such as Escherichia coli O157:H7 (EHEC). The efficacy of nanoemulsified carvacrol (NCR) as a washing treatment in reducing EHEC on fresh produce was investigated. Fresh baby spinach, romaine lettuce, and iceberg lettuce leaves (2.5-cm-diameter cores) were spot inoculated with a five-strain cocktail of nalidixic acid–resistant EHEC at ∼6 log CFU/cm2. After air drying for 1 h, 20 pieces of each inoculated produce leaf were immersed in water-based treatment solutions (200 mL per group), including water alone, 25 or 50 ppm of free chlorine, and 0.25 or 0.75% NCR for 2 min. Inoculated produce leaves without any treatment served as baseline. Produce leaves were stored at 10°C, and surviving EHEC populations were enumerated on days 0, 2, 7, and 14. The viability of EHEC following NCR treatments on the fresh produce was visualized under a fluorescence microscope. NCR treatment at 0.75% immediately reduced EHEC populations on iceberg lettuce by 1.3 log CFU/cm2 as compared with the produce treated with water alone (P < 0.05). Antimicrobial activity of NCR against EHEC was comparable to chlorine treatments on day 0 for all produce (P > 0.05). After 14 days of storage at 10°C, populations of EHEC on 0.75% NCR-treated romaine lettuce were reduced by 2.3 log CFU/cm2 compared with the recovery from 50 ppm of chlorine-treated samples (P < 0.05). Microscopic images revealed that EHEC cells were observed to be clustered on the baseline samples, indicating the development of cell aggregation, compared with the scattered cells seen on NCR-treated leaf surfaces. Treatments with NCR did not significantly affect the color of the fresh produce leaves during 14 days of storage at 10°C. Results of this study support the potential use of NCR as a water-soluble natural antimicrobial wash treatment for controlling EHEC on fresh produce.

HIGHLIGHTS
  • NCR significantly inactivated EHEC on iceberg lettuce and spinach on day 0.

  • Antimicrobial efficacy of NCR against EHEC was comparable to chlorine on day 0.

  • NCR reduced up to 4 log CFU/cm2 of EHEC on fresh produce after 14-day storage.

  • Chlorine reduced up to 2 log CFU/cm2 of EHEC on fresh produce after 14-day storage.

  • The color of the fresh produce was not affected by the NCR treatment.

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