Iceberg lettuce is a major component in vegetable salad and has been associated with many outbreaks of foodborne illnesses. In this study, several combinations of lactic acid and hydrogen peroxide were tested to obtain effective antibacterial activity without adverse effects on sensory characteristics. A five-strain mixture of Escherichia coli O157:H7, Salmonella enterica serotype Enteritidis, and Listeria monocytogenes was inoculated separately onto fresh-cut lettuce leaves, which were later treated with 1.5% lactic acid plus 1.5% hydrogen peroxide (H2O2) at 40°C for 15 min, 1.5% lactic acid plus 2% H2O2 at 22°C for 5 min, and 2% H2O2 at 50°C for 60 or 90 s. Control lettuce leaves were treated with deionized water under the same conditions. A 4-log reduction was obtained for lettuce treated with the combinations of lactic acid and H2O2 for E. coli O157:H7 and Salmonella Enteritidis, and a 3-log reduction was obtained for L. monocytogenes. However, the sensory characteristics of lettuce were compromised by these treatments. The treatment of lettuce leaves with 2% H2O2 at 50°C was effective not only in reducing pathogenic bacteria but also in maintaining good sensory quality for up to 15 days. A ≤4-log reduction of E. coli O157:H7 and Salmonella Enteritidis was achieved with the 2% H2O2 treatment, whereas a 3-log reduction of L. monocytogenes was obtained. There was no significant difference (P > 0.05) between pathogen population reductions obtained with 2% H2O2 with 60- and 90-s exposure times. Hydrogen peroxide residue was undetectable (the minimum level of sensitivity was 2 ppm) on lettuce surfaces after the treated lettuce was rinsed with cold water and centrifuged with a salad spinner. Hence, the treatment of lettuce with 2% H2O2 at 50°C for 60 s is effective in initially reducing substantial populations of foodborne pathogens and maintaining high product quality.

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Author notes

Present address: Plant Genetic Resources Conservation Unit, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Griffin, GA 30223, USA.