Once pathogens are internalized in fresh produce, they pose a challenging food safety issue because they are not effectively inactivated by conventional rinsing or sanitization. To protect food safety and public health, the objectives of this study were to examine internalized levels of foodborne pathogens in different types of fresh produce and to investigate the effectiveness of photocatalytically enhanced inactivation of internalized pathogens in fresh produce using UV irradiation with titanium dioxide (TiO2). For this, green fluorescent protein–labeled Salmonella Typhimurium and Escherichia coli O157:H7 were inoculated on the leaf surface of four types of fresh produce (∼108 CFU per leaf), and varying concentrations of TiO2 suspension (0.50, 0.75, 1.00, 1.25, and 1.50 μg/mL) were applied to the surface of contaminated leaves. Depending on the nature of each vegetable, the internalized bacterial level differed (2 to 5 log CFU/g of leaf). When UV irradiation (6,000 J/m2) was applied, the internalized Salmonella Typhimurium and E. coli levels were reduced by 0.8 to 2.4 log CFU per leaf; with TiO2, the reduction was 1.1 to 3.7 log CFU per leaf. The inactivation efficiency increased as the TiO2 concentration increased (up to 1.50 μg per leaf). These results indicate that TiO2 application enhanced the photocatalytic inactivation of internalized foodborne pathogens. The application of TiO2 would be most practical before UV irradiation and before distributing the produce. This study established a platform for future research on the inactivation of various internalized pathogens for protecting public health and scaling up fresh produce treatments by the food industry.

  • Foodborne pathogenic bacteria can internalize into plant tissues.

  • Depending on the nature of each plant, the internalized bacterial level differed.

  • TiO2 with UV enhances the efficiency of inactivation of internalized pathogen.

  • This combination can be applied to remove foodborne pathogens for food safety.

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