Effectiveness of a peracetic acid solution on Escherichia coli reduction during fresh-cut lettuce processing at the laboratory and industrial scales

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Fresh leafy greens like lettuce can be consumed raw and are susceptible to foodborne pathogens if they become contaminated. Recently, the number of reported pathogenic foodborne outbreaks related to leafy greens has increased. Therefore, it is important to try to alleviate the human health burden associated with these outbreaks. Processing of fresh-cut lettuce, including washing, is a step in the supply chain that needs to be well controlled to avoid cross-contamination. Current measures to control the quality of lettuce during washing include the use of chemicals like chlorine; however, questions regarding the safety of chlorine have prompted research for alternative solutions with peracetic acid (PAA). This study evaluates the effectiveness of a PAA (c.a. 75 mg/L) solution on the reduction of a commensal E. coli strain during the washing of fresh-cut lettuce. Experiments were performed at the laboratory scale and validated at the industrial scale. We observed that the use of PAA was not adversely affected by the organic load in the water. The contact time and dose of the PAA showed to be relevant factors, as observed by the approximately 5-log reduction of E. coli in the water. Results showed that once introduced during washing, E. coli remained attached to the lettuce, thus supporting the need to control for pathogenic bacteria earlier in the supply chain (e.g., during primary production) as well as during washing. Moreover, our results showed that the use of PAA during washing did not have an apparent effect on the levels of fluorescent pseudomonads (FP) and total heterotrophic bacteria (THB) in lettuce. Overall, our results at the laboratory and industrial scales confirmed that during the processing of fresh-cut produce, where the accumulation of soil, debris, and other plant exudates can negatively affect washing, the use of a PAA (c.a. 75 mg/L) solution was an effective and safe wash water disinfectant that can potentially be used at the industrial scale

Original languageEnglish
Article number108537
JournalInternational Journal of Food Microbiology
Publication statusPublished - 16 May 2020


  • Cross-contamination
  • Disinfection
  • Food industry
  • Vegetables
  • Water

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