Leafy greens are increasingly being recognized as an important vehicle for human noroviruses (HuNoV), which cause recurring gastroenteritis outbreaks. Leafy greens often become infected by phytopathogens in the field, which may cause symptoms on the edible parts. Whether plant pathogen infections enhance the survival of HuNoV on leafy greens is unknown. Lettuce and spinach plants were infected with a bacterium, Xanthomonas campestris pv. vitians strain 701a, and with Cucumber mosaic virus strain Fny, respectively. The survival rate of porcine sapovirus (SaV), a HuNoV surrogate, on infected and noninfected postharvest leaves was then assessed. In addition, acibenzolar-S-methyl, a commercial chemical elicitor of plant systemic defense, was used to assess whether stimulating the plant host defense affects the postharvest survival of SaV. Leaves harvested from control and treated plants were inoculated with SaV and incubated for 7 days at 4°C. The infectivity (tissue culture infectious dose affecting 50% of the culture [TCID50]/ml) and RNA (genomic equivalent/ml) titers of SaV were assayed using immunohistochemistry staining and SaV-specific TaqMan real-time reverse transcription PCR. Our results showed that cucumber mosaic virus Fny induced mild, nonnecrotic symptoms on spinach leaves and had no effect on SaV survival. In contrast, X. campestris pv. vitians 701a induced small localized necrotic lesions and significantly enhanced SaV survival on lettuce leaves. Treatment with acibenzolar-S-methyl was effective in reducing X. campestris pv. vitians 701a–induced lesions on infected lettuce plants but had no direct effect on SaV survival when used on healthy lettuce plants. These findings indicate that phytopathogen-induced necrotic lesions may enhance the postharvest survival of HuNoV on lettuce leaves. Therefore, preventive measures aiming to maintain healthy plants and minimize preharvest biological damage are expected to improve the safety of leafy greens.

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Author notes

These authors contributed equally to this study.