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Reducing Tomato Contamination with Salmonella through Cultivar Selection and Maturity at Harvest

Investigators
Teplitski, Max
Institutions
University of Florida
Start date
2009
End date
2010
Objective
Contamination of vegetables most likely occurs both pre- and post-harvest (even though routes of infection and sources of pathogens in the production environment are still a matter of discussion). Can produce safety be improved without imposing further regulatory burdens or additional costs on producers? We suggest that it should be possible to identify Salmonella-“resistant” cultivars so as to minimize the contamination of produce with S. enterica, much as breeders select for disease-resistant crops varieties. Such breeding efforts require an easy screen. However, because Salmonella contaminates plants without causing visible symptoms or damage during colonization and spread, the selection of “Salmonella resistant” plant genotypes is less than straightforward.

The first step to really solving this problem was to identify those bacterial genes that are crucial to the ability of Salmonella to contaminate and persist on tomatoes. With funding from Florida Tomato Committee in the past two years we characterized approximately forty Salmonella genes that are differentially regulated in tomatoes. These gene reporters can now be used for a direct and straightforward screen of the existing tomato cultivars or maturity stages that are less susceptible to contamination with Salmonella enterica.

The overall objective of this proposal is to identify cultivar and fruit ripeness stage (or their combination) that may be less susceptible to contamination with Salmonella or less conducive to the growth of the pathogen.

The goal of this proposal will be achieved by screening for a cultivar in which expression of the majority of Salmonella “tomato-specific” genes is strongly repressed.

These discoveries will contribute to the future comprehensive sustainability and food safety program that incorporates cultivar selection and minor alteration of harvesting practices.

Funding Source
Center for Produce Safety
Project number
2009-79
Categories
Bacterial Pathogens
Commodities
Produce