ABSTRACT

Fresh cucumbers have been linked to multistate outbreaks of salmonellosis in the United States. Cutting, slicing, shredding, or peeling can transfer pathogens from the surface of fresh produce to the edible flesh portion through tools or hands. Different nonpathogenic surrogates have been used in various intervention studies to predict Salmonella behavior. Little is known about the degree to which pathogens or their surrogates can transfer from the surface of fresh produce to edible flesh during peeling. This study quantifies the transfer of Salmonella Newport from the surface of cucumber to the edible flesh portion or peeler during peeling and evaluates Enterobacter aerogenes B199A, as well as native mesophilic microbiota, as surrogates for Salmonella transfer. Cucumbers were dip inoculated with Salmonella Newport or E. aerogenes at 7 log CFU per cucumber. Half of each inoculated cucumber was hand peeled by using a sterilized peeler, resulting in four separate samples (unpeeled half, edible flesh half, removed peel, and used peeler) to quantify bacterial transfer. Most (>95%) of inoculated E. aerogenes, Salmonella, or native mesophilic microbiota generally remained associated with the peel during peeling. E. aerogenes transfer to cucumber flesh ranged from 0.02 to 12.9%, while transfer to the peeler ranged from 0.01 to 6.6%. Salmonella to cucumber flesh ranged from 0 to 0.6%, while transfer to the peeler ranged from 0 to 2.2%. Native microflora transfer to cucumber flesh ranged from 0.02 to 3.7%, while transfer to the peeler ranged from 0.04 to 3.7%. The log percent transfer of E. aerogenes at 24 h, as well as several shorter times, was not significantly different (P > 0.05) from that of Salmonella transferred to the edible flesh portion or peeler during peeling. E. aerogenes B199A may be a useful surrogate for Salmonella in cross-contamination studies and may help guide future risk management efforts to reduce pathogen risk associated with fresh cucumbers.

HIGHLIGHTS
  • E. aerogenes may be an appropriate surrogate for Salmonella transfer during peeling.

  • Most (>95%) bacteria on cucumber peel generally remain with the peel during peeling.

  • Few bacteria (∼1 to 2%) are usually transferred to flesh or peeler during peeling.

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