A study was undertaken to evaluate methods for applying inoculum and to examine the effect of inoculum drying time on survival and recovery of foodborne pathogens inoculated onto the surface of raw, ripe tomatoes. Five-strain mixtures of Escherichia coli O157:H7, Salmonella, or Listeria monocytogenes were applied to tomatoes by dip, spot, or spray inoculation methods. Inocula were dried for 1 or 24 h at 22°C before tomatoes were treated with water (control) or chlorine (200 μg/ml). Significantly (α = 0.05) larger populations (CFU per tomato) of E. coli O157:H7 and Salmonella were recovered from dip-inoculated tomatoes than from spot- or spray-inoculated tomatoes. This difference was attributed to larger numbers of cells adhering to tomatoes subjected to dip inoculation. Populations of E. coli O157:H7 and Salmonella recovered from spot- and spray-inoculated tomatoes containing the same initial number of cells were not significantly different. Significantly different L. monocytogenes population sizes were recovered from inoculated tomatoes (dip > spot > spray). Populations of pathogens recovered from tomatoes were significantly larger when inocula were dried for 1 h compared with 24 h. Significant differences (water > chlorine) were observed in the sizes of populations for all pathogens recovered from tomatoes treated with chlorine, regardless of inoculation method or drying time. Results indicate that inoculation method, drying time, and treatment affect survival and/or recovery of foodborne pathogens inoculated onto the surface of tomatoes. We recommend that spot inoculation with a drying time of 24 h at 22°C be used with standard methods to determine the efficacy of chlorine and other sanitizers for killing foodborne pathogens on tomatoes.

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