In 1999, consumption of alfalfa sprouts contaminated with Salmonella Mbandaka led to a multistate outbreak of salmonellosis. In this study, the implicated alfalfa seed lot (no. 8119) was confirmed to be contaminated with Salmonella Mbandaka at a detection frequency of approximately 72% per replicated 100 g of seed. The sensitivity of detection was improved by a combination of nonselective and selective enrichment of 5.0 ml of germination effluent, followed by immunomagnetic separation. Detection of low levels of viable cells with nonselective enrichment, employed to enhance the recovery of stressed or injured cells, was facilitated by the application of Salmonella-specific polymerase chain reaction (PCR). With PCR assays, Salmonella Mbandaka was detectable on seed stored at 5°C for at least 11 months, but at an increasingly diminishing frequency. Using conventional techniques, viable populations were detected in the seed germination effluent from seeds stored for up to 8 months. Seed treatments with buffered (to pH 7) and unbuffered solutions of calcium hypochlorite, providing approximately 2,000 and 20,000 ppm of free chlorine, for 10 min were equally effective in eliminating viable populations of Salmonella Mbandaka. However, aqueous heat treatments at up to 85°C for 1 min did not eliminate the naturally occurring contaminant from the seed. Reductions of >15% in germination were observed following heat treatments of 65°C for ≥6 min or 70°C for ≥4 min. On the basis of these results, aqueous heat treatments alone do not appear to be a viable alternative to hyperchlorination as an effective method to eliminate Salmonella from alfalfa seed.
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