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Raw is risky: Salmonella growth on sprouts and microgreens

barfblog by Doug Powell, April 22, 2018

Microgreens, like sprouts, are relatively fast-growing products and are generally consumed raw. Moreover, as observed for sprouts, microbial contamination from preharvest sources may also be present in the production of microgreens.

In this study, two Salmonella enterica serovars (Hartford and Cubana), applied at multiple inoculation levels, were evaluated for survival and growth on alfalfa sprouts and Swiss chard microgreens by using the most-probable-number (MPN) method. Various abiotic factors were also examined for their effects on Salmonella survival and growth on sprouts and microgreens. Community-level physiological profiles (CLPPs) of sprout/microgreen rhizospheres with different levels of S. enterica inoculation at different growth stages were characterized by use of Biolog EcoPlates. In the seed contamination group, the ability of S. enterica to grow on sprouting alfalfa seeds was affected by both seed storage time and inoculation level but not by serovar. However, the growth of S. enterica on Swiss chard microgreens was affected by serovar and inoculation level. Seed storage time had little effect on the average level of Salmonella populations in microgreens. In the irrigation water contamination group, the growth of Salmonella on both alfalfa sprouts and microgreens was largely affected by inoculation level. Surprisingly, the growth medium was found to play an important role in Salmonella survival and growth on microgreens. CLPP analysis showed significant changes in the microbial community metabolic diversity during sprouting for alfalfa sprouts, but few temporal changes were seen with microgreens. The data suggest that the change in rhizosphere bacterial functional diversity was dependent on the host but independent of Salmonella contamination.

Sprouts and microgreens are considered “functional foods,” i.e., foods containing health-promoting or disease-preventing properties in addition to normal nutritional values. However, the microbial risk associated with microgreens has not been well studied. This study evaluated Salmonella survival and growth on microgreens compared to those on sprouts, as well as other abiotic factors that could affect Salmonella survival and growth on microgreens. This work provides baseline data for risk assessment of microbial contamination of sprouts and microgreens. Understanding the risks of Salmonella contamination and its effects on rhizosphere microbial communities enables a better understanding of host-pathogen dynamics in sprouts and microgreens. The data also contribute to innovative preventive control strategies for Salmonella contamination of sprouts and microgreens.