Quantification and colonisation dynamics of Escherichia coli O157:H7 inoculation of microgreens species and plant growth substrates

Kathryn M. Wright, Nicola J. Holden*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

40 Citations (Scopus)


Microgreens are edible plants used in food preparation for their appealing flavours and colours. They are grown beyond the point of harvest of sprouted seeds, and normally include the cotyledons and first true leaves. Their method of production is similar to sprouted seeds, which is known to be favourable for growth of microbial pathogens, although there is little data on the potential of food-borne pathogens such as Shigatoxigenic Escherichia coli (STEC) to colonise these plants. We found colonisation of nine different species of microgreen plants by STEC (isolate Sakai, stx−), with high levels of growth over five days, of approximately 5 orders of magnitude, for plants propagated at 21 °C. STEC (Sakai) formed extensive colonies on external tissue, with some evidence for internalisation via stomatal pores. Several factors impacted the level of colonisation: (1) plant tissue type such that for broccoli microgreens, the highest levels of STEC (Sakai) occurred on cotyledons compared to the true leaf and hypocotyl; (2) the route of contamination such that higher levels occurred with contaminated irrigation water compared to direct seed contamination; (3) inoculation dose, although only at low levels of inoculation (3 log10) compared to medium (5 log10) or high (7 log10) levels; (4) environmental factors, including to some extent humidity, but also plant growth substrate types. It was also evident that a starvation response was induced in STEC (Sakai) in low-nutrient plant irrigation medium. Together these data show that microgreens represent a potential hazard of contamination by food-borne pathogens, and to mitigate the risk, they should be considered in the same manner as sprouted seeds.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-10
Number of pages10
JournalInternational Journal of Food Microbiology
Early online date8 Mar 2018
Publication statusPrint publication - 20 May 2018
Externally publishedYes


  • Food-borne hazard
  • Food-borne pathogens
  • Fresh produce
  • Microherb
  • Microleaf


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