Leafy Green Farm-to-Customer Process Model Predicts Product Testing Is Most Effective at Detecting Contamination When Conducted Early in the System before Effective Interventions


Commercial leafy green supply chains often are required to have test and reject (sampling) plans for specific microbial adulterants at primary production or finished product packing for market access. To better understand the impact of this type of sampling, this study simulated the effect of sampling (from preharvest to consumer) and processing interventions (such as produce wash with antimicrobial chemistry) on the microbial adulterant load reaching the system endpoint (customer). This study simulated seven leafy green systems, an optimal system (all interventions), a suboptimal system (no interventions), and five systems where single interventions were removed to represent single process failures, resulting in 147 total scenarios. The all-interventions scenario resulted in a 3.4 log reduction (95% confidence interval [CI], 3.3 to 3.6) of the total adulterant cells that reached the system endpoint (endpoint TACs). The most effective single interventions were washing, prewashing, and preharvest holding, 1.3 (95% CI, 1.2 to 1.5), 1.3 (95% CI, 1.2 to 1.4), and 0.80 (95% CI, 0.73 to 0.90) log reduction to endpoint TACs, respectively. The factor sensitivity analysis suggests that sampling plans that happen before effective processing interventions (preharvest, harvest, and receiving) were most effective at reducing endpoint TACs, ranging between 0.05 and 0.66 log additional reduction compared to systems with no sampling. In contrast, sampling postprocessing (finished product) did not provide meaningful additional reductions to the endpoint TACs (0 to 0.04 log reduction). The model suggests that sampling used to detect contamination was most effective earlier in the system before effective interventions. Effective interventions reduce undetected contamination levels and prevalence, reducing a sampling plan’s ability to detect contamination.