Produce Safety and Microbiology Research Unit, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service, Western Regional Research Center, 800 Buchanan Street, Albany, California 94710, USA. firstname.lastname@example.org
Escherichia coli O157:H7 can survive in low numbers in soil and on plants. Occasionally, conditions may occur in the field that lead to contamination of produce. Survival of enteric pathogens in the field is controlled to a certain extent by complex interactions with indigenous soilborne and seedborne epiphytes. Identifying these interactions may assist in developing strategies to improve produce safety. Two epiphytes were isolated from pathogen-contaminated plants that interact differently with E. coli O157:H7. Wausteria paucula enhanced the survival of E. coli O157:H7 six-fold on lettuce foliage grown from coinoculated lettuce seed. In contrast, Enterobacter asburiae decreased E. coli O157:H7 survival 20- to 30-fold on foliage. Competition also occurred in the rhizosphere and in plant exudate. This competition may be the result of E. asburiae utilization of several of the carbon and nitrogen substrates typically present in exudate and also used by E. coli O157:H7. Hence, competition observed on the plant may involve one or more nutrients provided by the plant. In contrast, a different mechanism may exist between E. coli O157:H7 and W. paucula since commensalism was only observed on foliage, not in the rhizosphere or plant exudate. Good agricultural practices that encourage the growth of competing bacteria, like E. asburiae, may reduce the incidence of produce contamination.