The aim of this study was to assess the microbiological quality of ready-to-eat (RTE) iceberg lettuce. Our investigation was based on the consumption tendency of university students considered a target market for this product. A total of 78 RTE samples were collected from chain supermarkets and analysed for the enumeration of aerobic mesophilic count (AMC), Escherichia coli and the detection of Salmonella spp. and Listeria monocytogenes. All samples were negative for the presence of pathogens. The mean value of AMC at the beginning, in the middle and after the expiration date was: 6.88, 8.51 and 8.72 log CFU g-1, respectively. The same investigation was performed on 12 samples of fresh iceberg lettuce samples. No pathogens were found and the mean value of AMC was lower than the RTE category (5.73 log CFU g-1; P<0.05). The effectiveness of 5 washing methods was determined on 15 samples of both fresh and RTE iceberg lettuce. Samples were washed for 15’ and 30’ in tap water (500 mL), tap water with NaCl (4 g/500 mL), tap water with bicarbonate (8 g/500 mL), tap water with vinegar (10 mL/500 mL) and tap water with chlorine-based disinfectant (10 mL/500 mL). A significant bacterial load reduction was recorded for vinegar and disinfectant after 30’ and 15’, respectively. Overall, these results showed that RTE iceberg lettuce is more contaminated than the fresh product. Also, the consumption in the first few days of packaging and after washing with disinfectants reduces the risk for health consumers.
Iceberg lettuce; Microbial contamination; Ready-to-eat; Shelf-life; Washing;