Whole-Leaf Wash Improves Chlorine Efficacy for Microbial Reduction and Prevents Pathogen Cross-Contamination during Fresh-Cut Lettuce Processing
Currently, most fresh-cut processing facilities in the United States use chlorinated water or other sanitizer solutions for microbial reduction after lettuce is cut. Freshly cut lettuce releases significant amounts of organic matter that negatively impacts the effectiveness of chlorine or other sanitizers for microbial reduction. The objective of this study is to evaluate whether a sanitizer wash before cutting improves microbial reduction efficacy compared to a traditional postcutting sanitizer wash. Romaine lettuce leaves were quantitatively inoculated with E. coli O157:H7 strains and washed in chlorinated water before or after cutting, and E. coli O157:H7 cells that survived the washing process were enumerated to determine the effectiveness of microbial reduction for the 2 cutting and washing sequences. Whole-leaf washing in chlorinated water improved pathogen reduction by approximately 1 log unit over traditional cut-leaf sanitization. Similar improvement in the reduction of background microflora was also observed. Inoculated “Lollo Rossa” red lettuce leaves were mixed with noninoculated Green-Leaf lettuce leaves to evaluate pathogen cross-contamination during processing. High level (96.7% subsamples, average MPN 0.6 log CFU/g) of cross-contamination of noninoculated green leaves by inoculated red leaves was observed when mixed lettuce leaves were cut prior to washing in chlorinated water. In contrast, cross-contamination of noninoculated green leaves was significantly reduced (3.3% of subsamples, average MPN ≤ −0.3 log CFU/g) when the mixed leaves were washed in chlorinated water before cutting. This result suggests that whole-leaf sanitizing washes could be a practical strategy for enhancing the efficacy of chlorine washes for pathogen reduction and cross-contamination prevention.