This study was conducted to investigate the effect of free chlorine concentrations in wash water on Escherichia coli O157:H7 reduction, survival, and transference during washing of fresh-cut lettuce. The effectiveness of rewashing for inactivation of E. coli O157:H7 on newly cross-contaminated produce previously washed with solutions containing an insufficient amount of chlorine also was assessed. Results indicate that solutions containing a minimum of 0.5 mg/liter free chlorine were effective for inactivating E. coli O157:H7 in suspension to below the detection level. However, the presence of 1 mg/liter free chlorine in the wash solution before washing was insufficient to prevent E. coli O157:H7 survival and transfer during washing because the introduction of cut lettuce to the wash system quickly depleted the free chlorine. Although no E. coli O157:H7 was detected in the wash solution containing 5 mg/liter free chlorine before washing a mix of inoculated and uninoculated lettuce, low numbers of E. coli O157:H7 cells were detected on uninoculated lettuce in four of the seven experimental trials. When the prewash free chlorine concentration was increased to 10 mg/liter or greater, no E. coli O157:H7 transfer was detected. Furthermore, although rewashing newly cross-contaminated lettuce in 50 mg/liter free chlorine for 30 s significantly reduced (P = 0.002) the E. coli O157:H7 populations, it failed to eliminate E. coli O157:H7 on lettuce. This finding suggests that rewashing is not an effective way to correct for process failure, and maintaining a sufficient free chlorine concentration in the wash solution is critical for preventing pathogen cross-contamination.
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