The internalisation potential of Listeria monocytogenes, Staphylococcus aureus, Escherichia coli O157:H7 and Salmonella enterica subsp. enterica serovar Typhimurium in lettuce was evaluated using seedlings grown in vermiculite in seedling trays as well as hydroponically grown lettuce. Sterile distilled water was spiked with one of the four human pathogenic bacteria (105 CFU/mL) and used to irrigate the plants. The potential for pathogen internalisation was investigated over time using light microscopy, transmission electron microscopy and viable plate counts. Additionally, the identities of the pathogens isolated from internal lettuce plant tissues were confirmed using polymerase chain reaction with pathogen-specific oligonucleotides. Internalisation of each of the human pathogens was evident in both lettuce seedlings and hydroponically grown mature lettuce plants. To our knowledge, this is the first report of S. aureus internalisation in lettuce plants. In addition, the levels of background microflora in the lettuce plants were determined by plate counting and the isolates identified using matrix-assisted laser ionisation–time of flight (MALDI–TOF). Background microflora assessments confirmed the absence of the four pathogens evaluated in this study. A low titre of previously described endophytes and soil inhabitants, i.e., Enterobacter cloacae, Enterococcus faecalis, Lysinibacillus fusiformis, Rhodococcus rhodochrous, Staphylococcus epidermidis and Staphylococcus hominis were identified.

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