Raw vegetables are a key food for a healthy diet, but their increased consumption brings a higher risk for foodborne disease. Contamination of salad greens with Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli (STEC) O157:H7 has caused severe disease and important economic losses almost yearly in the United States over the last 10 years. To curb the risk of infections from contaminated produce, approaches based on bacterial virus – commonly known as bacteriophage or phage – have recently started to draw interest among other antimicrobial strategies. Phages enter bacterial cells to reproduce and cause cellular lysis to release their phage progeny at the end of their infection cycle. This lytic effect is caused by lysins, phage-encoded enzymes that have evolved to degrade the bacterial cell wall resulting in hypotonic lysis. When applied externally in their purified form, such enzymes are able to kill sensitive bacteria on contact in a similar way. Their unique bactericidal properties have made lysins effective antimicrobial agents in a variety of applications, from treating multidrug-resistant infections in humans to controlling bacterial contamination in several areas, including microbiological food safety. Here we describe a novel lysin, namely PlyEc2, with potent bactericidal activity against key gram-negative pathogens including E. coli, Salmonella, Shigella, Acinetobacter and Pseudomonas. PlyEc2 displayed high bactericidal activity against STEC to a concentration of 12.5 μg/ml under different pH conditions. This lysin was also able to reduce the bacterial titer of several pathogenic strains in vitro by more than 5 logarithmic units, resulting in complete sterilization. Importantly, PlyEc2 proved to be a powerful produce decontamination agent in its ability to clear 99.7% of contaminating STEC O157:H7 in our Romaine lettuce leaf model. PlyEc2 was also able to eradicate 99.8% of the bacteria contaminating the washing solution, drastically reducing the risk of cross-contamination during the washing process. A sensory evaluation panel found that treatment with PlyEc2 did not alter the visual and tactile quality of lettuce leaves compared to the untreated leaves. Our study is the first to describe a highly effective lysin treatment to control gram-negative pathogenic contamination on fresh lettuce without the addition of membrane destabilizing agents.
About The Expert
Vincent A Fischetti