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Research article2021Peer reviewedOpen access

Processing of leafy vegetables matters: Damage and microbial community structure from field to bag

Mulaosmanovic, Emina; Lindblom, Tobias; Windstam, Sofia; Bengtsson, Marie; Rosberg, Anna Karin; Mogren, Lars; Alsanius, Beatrix


Leafy vegetables undergo abiotic and biotic stresses, and a series of processing steps that cause mechanical injury. Breaching the epidermis alters phyllosphere structural and nutrient conditions, resulting in successional shifts in leaf microbiota and entry of human pathogens. This study examined damage during processing of baby leaves (Swiss chard, spinach) and concomitant microbial successional events. Machine-harvesting, washing, and packaging caused major phyllosphere perturbations, with increasing levels of leaf damage. Older leaves showed most damage, but plant species was influential. Diversity estimates of bacterial and fungal communities revealed shifts in microbiota post-harvest, particularly after the washing step. Relative abundance of Pseudomonadaceae and Enterobacteriaceae increased from field to bag. Bacterial species specific to different harvesting and processing steps replaced core microbiota species. While processing is unavoidable, procedures that mitigate leaf damage can enhance shelf-life and food safety.


damage; Escherichia coli O157:H7; microbiota; post-harvest; spinach; swiss chard

Published in

Food Control
2021, Volume: 125, article number: 107894