Internalization of Escherichia coli O157:H7 into spinach plants through root uptake is a potential route of contamination. ATn7-based plasmid vector was used to insert a green fluorescent protein gene into the attTn7 site in the E. coli chromosome. Three green fluorescent protein–labeled E. coli inocula were used: produce outbreak O157:H7 strains RM4407 and RM5279 (inoculum 1), ground beef outbreak O157:H7 strain 86-24h11 (inoculum 2), and commensal strain HS (inoculum 3). These strains were cultivated in fecal slurries and applied at ca. 103 or 107 CFU/g to pasteurized soils in which baby spinach seedlings were planted. No E. coli was recovered by spiral plating from surface-sanitized internal tissues of spinach plants on days 0, 7, 14, 21, and 28. Inoculum 1 survived at significantly higher populations (P < 0.05) in the soil than did inoculum 3 after 14, 21, and 28 days, indicating that produce outbreak strains of E. coli O157:H7 may be less physiologically stressed in soils than are nonpathogenic E. coli isolates. Inoculum 2 applied at ca. 107 CFU/ml to hydroponic medium was consistently recovered by spiral plating from the shoot tissues of spinach plants after 14 days (3.73 log CFU per shoot) and 21 days (4.35 log CFU per shoot). Fluorescent E. coli cells were microscopically observed in root tissues in 23 (21%) of 108 spinach plants grown in inoculated soils. No internalized E. coli was microscopically observed in shoot tissue of plants grown in inoculated soil. These studies do not provide evidence for efficient uptake of E. coli O157:H7 from soil to internal plant tissue.
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