Cross Contamination of Escherichia coli O157:H7 Between Lettuce and Wash Water during Home-scale Washing
Lettuce and leafy greens have been implicated in multiple foodborne disease outbreaks. This study quantifies cross contamination between lettuce pieces in a small-scale home environment. A five-strain cocktail of relevant Escherichia coli O157:H7 strains was used. Bacterial transfer between single inoculated lettuce leaf pieces to 10 non-inoculated lettuce leaf pieces that were washed in a stainless steel bowl of water for 30 s, 1 min, 2 min, and 5 min was quantified. Regardless of washing time, the wash water became contaminated with 90e99% of bacteria originally present on the inoculated lettuce leaf piece. The E. coli O157:H7 concentration on initially inoculated leaf pieces was reduced ~2 log CFU. Each initially uncontaminated lettuce leaf piece had ~1% of the E. coli O157:H7 from the inoculated lettuce piece transferred to it after washing, with more transfer occurring during the shortest (30 s) and longest (5 min) wash times. In all cases the log percent transfer rates were essentially normally distributed. In all scenarios, most of the E. coli O157:H7 (90e99%) transferred from the inoculated lettuce pieces to the wash water. Washing with plain tap water reduces levels of E. coli O157:H7 on the inoculated lettuce leaf pieces, but also spreads contamination to previously uncontaminated leaf pieces.