The recent outbreak of Escherichia coli O157:H7 infection associated with contaminated spinach led to an investigation of the role of insects, which frequent fields of leafy greens and neighboring rangeland habitats, in produce contamination. Four leafy greens fields adjacent to cattle-occupied rangeland habitats were sampled using sweep nets and sticky traps. Agromyzid flies, anthomyiid flies, and leafhoppers were caught consistently in both rangeland and leafy greens production fields at all sites. An unexpected number of flies (n = 34) in the Muscidae and Calliphoridae families (known as filth flies because of their development in animal feces) were caught in one leafy greens field. A subset of these filth flies were positive (11 of 18 flies) for E. coli O157:H7 by PCR amplification using primers for the E. coli O157:H7–specific eae gene. Under laboratory conditions, house flies were confined on manure or agar medium containing E. coli O157:H7 tagged with green fluorescent protein (GFP) and then tested for their capacity to transfer the microbes to spinach plants. GFP-tagged bacteria were detected on surfaces of 50 to 100% of leaves examined by fluorescence microscopy and in 100% of samples tested by PCR. These results indicate that flies are capable of contaminating leafy greens under experimental conditions and confirm the importance of further investigation of the role of insects in contamination of fresh produce.

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