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Dissemination and Fate of Foodborne Pathogens and Indicators on Produce Post Irrigation with Surface Water: An Intervention Trial

Ivanek, Renata
Cornell University
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The goal of this project is to evaluate existing and novel strategies and proposed regulations for mitigating irrigation-related contamination of produce. This will be accomplished through the following objectives:(1) Conduct intervention trials to test effectiveness of irrigation water treatments in reducing produce contamination at harvest;(2) Estimate irrigation-induced dissemination of indicators and pathogens on produce at harvest and the rate of indicator die-off on produce post-irrigation; and(3) Develop Good Agricultural Practices for management of irrigation.
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Food safety concerns related to produce have been on the rise as the reported nationwide outbreaks related to contaminated produce, including spinach and cantaloupes, have been making headlines. Irrigation water has been identified as a major route for produce contamination. There is a strong need for tested interventions to mitigate produce contamination during pre-harvest through treatment of surface water used for irrigation. We will address this need through conduct of controlled intervention trials to test effectiveness of the existing ultraviolet and a novel sulfuric acid fertilizer based treatments of surface water for irrigation in reducing contamination of spinach and cantaloupes at harvest. There is also a strong need for commodity-specific research of the rate of die-off of microbial hazards on produce after the last irrigation before harvest. We will address this need through analysis of the distribution and survival of Salmonella and indicator organisms on spinach and cantaloupes post irrigation in the intervention trials. This analysis will also elucidate how much of the commodity-specific contamination prevalence and level at harvest is truly attributed to the microbial quality of irrigation water and the lag time since last irrigation, which are the pillars of the proposed Food Safety Modernization Act rules, as opposed to being attributed to other factors, such as irrigation system and weather. Finally, we will translate research findings into decision trees to serve as user-friendly Good Agricultural Practices guidelines and strategies for control of irrigation-induced contamination of spinach and cantaloupes at pre-harvest. The project findings are expected to support establishment of a sustainable water management in produce growing that increases produce safety, productivity, economic viability and sustainability of US agriculture and is ecologically sound.
Funding Source
Nat'l. Inst. of Food and Agriculture
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Bacterial Pathogens
Natural Toxins
Viruses and Prions
Chemical Contaminants