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Research article2019Peer reviewedOpen access

Season and Species: Two Possible Hurdles for Reducing the Food Safety Risk of Escherichia coli O157 Contamination of Leafy Vegetables

Soderqvist, Karin; Rosberg, Anna Karin; Boqvist, Sofia; Alsanius, Beatrix; Mogren, Lars; Vagsholm, Ivar


The food safety risk of Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli (STEC) infection per serving of leafy vegetables was investigated using a quantitative microbial risk assessment (QMRA) approach. The estimated level of E. coli O157 contamination was based on observed numbers of Enterobacteriaceae and E. coli on leafy vegetables grown and processed in southern Sweden from 2014 to 2016. Samples were collected before harvest, after washing, and at the end of shelf life. The observed counts were combined with data on the ratio of E. coli to E. coli O157 taken from earlier studies to estimate the probability of illness. The risks of STEC infection associated with species, either spinach (Spinacia oleracea) or rocket (Diplotaxis tenuifolia), growing season (spring or autumn), and washing (washed or not washed) were then evaluated. The results indicated that leafy vegetable species and growing season could be possible hurdles for reducing the food safety risk of STEC infection. At harvest, the probability of infection was 87% lower when consuming rocket compared with spinach and 90% lower when consuming leafy vegetables grown in spring compared with autumn. These relative risk reductions remained consistent even with other serving sizes and dose-response models. The lowest risk of STEC infection was associated with leafy vegetables early in the production chain, i.e., before harvest, while the risk increased during storage and processing. Consequently, the highest risk was observed when leafy vegetables were consumed at the end of shelf life. Washing had no effect on the food safety risk of STEC infection in this study. To improve the quality of QMRA, there is a need for additional data on the relationship between indicator organisms that can be easily enumerated (e.g., E. coli and Enterobacteriaceae) and E. coli strains that can cause STEC infection (e.g., E. coli O157) but are difficult to identify in food samples such as leafy vegetables.


Enterobacteriaceae; Minimally processed; Quantitative microbial risk assessment; Ready to eat; Rocket; Spinach

Published in

Journal of Food Protection
2019, Volume: 82, number: 2, pages: 247-255