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Int J Food Microbiol. 2013 Jul 1;165(1):65-76. doi: 10.1016/j.ijfoodmicro.2013.04.003. Epub 2013 Apr 11.

Occurrence of generic Escherichia coli, E. coli O157 and Salmonella spp. in water and sediment from leafy green produce farms and streams on the Central California coast.

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  • 1Western Center for Food Safety, University of California, Davis, 1477 Drew Avenue, Ste. 101, Davis, CA 95618, USA.


Irrigation with water of poor microbiological quality can elevate levels of bacteria on produce. This study aimed to identify climate and management variables associated with generic Escherichia coli in irrigation water on leafy green produce farms and to measure the prevalence of E. coli O157 and Salmonella spp. in irrigation and non-irrigation water sources on these farms. Water and sediment samples collected from various points along irrigation systems, as well as from streams and ponds on farms on the Central California coast between May 27th, 2008 and October 26th, 2010 were cultured for generic E. coli (MPN/100 mL or cfu 100 g) (n=436), E. coli O157 (n=437), and (n=163) Salmonella. Variables were based on grower's management practices, landscape features in proximity to samples (e.g., distance to roads and ranches/livestock), and climate data accessed from an online database. Negative binomial regression models were constructed to test associations between generic E. coli (MPN/100 mL) in water from farms and variables. Arithmetic mean concentration of E. coli for water, not including those from Moore swabs, and sediment samples, was 7.1×10(2) MPN/100 mL and 1.0×10(4) cfu/100 g, respectively. Matched by collection day, E. coli concentration in sediment (cfu/100 g) was typically 10- to 1000-fold higher than the overlying water (MPN/100 mL) for these irrigation systems. Generic E. coli concentration (MPN/100 mL) increased by 60.1% for each 1m/s increase in wind speed and decreased by 3% for each 10 m increase in the distance between the sample location and rangeland. Moore swabs detected a higher proportion of E. coli O157 (13.8%) positive water samples compared to grab samples (1.8%); 1.7% of sediment samples had detectable levels of this pathogen. Interestingly, season was not significantly associated with E. coli O157 presence in water or sediments from produce farms or water sources with public access. Salmonella was detected in 6% (6/96) water and 4.3% (3/67) sediment samples. Generic E. coli concentration was not significantly associated with the presence of either E. coli O157 or Salmonella in water or sediment samples, suggesting that, for this 2.5-year period and geographical location, generic E. coli would likely be an unreliable indicator bacteria for predicting the presence of these food- and waterborne pathogens in a key produce production environment.

Copyright © 2013 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.

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