Studies were done to determine the effect of heat stress on internalization of Escherichia coli O157:H7 in lettuce subjected to different watering practices during growth. Iceberg and romaine lettuce were grown in sandy soil in an environmental chamber at 23°C during the day and 7°C at night, with a 12-h photoperiod. Thirty days after transplanting seedlings, potting soil was inoculated with a five-strain mixture of green fluorescent protein–labeled E. coli O157:H7 at populations of 4 and 6 log CFU/g of soil. Lettuce plants were exposed to one of two temperature stress regimes: 36°C during the day and 15°C at night for 2 days, or 32°C during the day and 15°C at night for 3 days, both with a 12-h photoperiod. Control plants were held at 23°C during the day and 7°C at night for 3 days. Plants were either watered daily or not watered during the heat stress and control treatments. E. coli O157:H7 was detected by enrichment in all inoculated soil and rhizosphere samples from plants grown in inoculated soil. Less E. coli O157:H7 was detected in inoculated heat-stressed soil than in control soil. From inoculated pots, all leaf surfaces and macerated leaves that had been surface sanitized were negative for E. coli O157:H7. All surface-sanitized macerated roots from control samples and from 143 of 144 samples of inoculated samples were negative for E. coli O157:H7. Heat stress during growth of lettuce did not promote or enhance internalization of E. coli O157:H7, regardless of the moisture content in the soil.

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Author notes

Present address: Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, U.S. Food and Drug Administration, 5100 Paint Branch Parkway, College Park, MD 20740, USA.