PloS one

Surface survival and internalization of salmonella through natural cracks on developing cantaloupe fruits, alone or in the presence of the melon wilt pathogen Erwinia tracheiphila.

PMID 25147942


Outbreaks of foodborne illness attributed to the consumption of Salmonella-tainted cantaloupe have occurred repeatedly, but understanding of the ecology of Salmonella on cantaloupe fruit surfaces is limited. We investigated the interactions between Salmonella enterica Poona, the plant pathogenic bacterium Erwinia tracheiphila, and cantaloupe fruit. Fruit surfaces were inoculated at the natural cracking stage by spreading S. enterica and E. tracheiphila, 20 µl at 107 cfu/ml, independently or together, over a 2×2 cm rind area containing a crack. Microbial and microscopic analyses were performed at 0, 9 and 24 days post inoculation (DPI). Even at 24 DPI (fruit maturity) S. enterica was detected on 14% and 40% of the fruit inoculated with S. enterica alone and the two-pathogen mixture, respectively. However, the population of S. enterica declined gradually after initial inoculation. E. tracheiphila, inoculated alone or together with Salmonella, caused watersoaked lesions on cantaloupe fruit; but we could not conclude in this study that S. enterica survival on the fruit surface was enhanced by the presence of those lesions. Of fruit inoculated with E. tracheiphila alone and sampled at 24 DPI, 61% had watersoaked lesions on the surface. In nearly half of those symptomatic fruits the watersoaking extended into the sub-rind mesocarp, and E. tracheiphila was recovered from that tissue in 50% of the symptomatic fruit. In this work, E. tracheiphila internalized through natural cracks on developing fruits. S. enterica was never detected in the fruit interior (ca. 2-3 mm below rind surface) under the limited conditions of our experiments, but the possibility that it, or other human pathogens that contaminate fresh produce, might also do so should be investigated under a wider range of conditions and produce types.