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J Food Prot. 2004 Jul;67(7):1365-70.

Persistence of enterohemorrhagic Escherichia coli O157:H7 in soil and on leaf lettuce and parsley grown in fields treated with contaminated manure composts or irrigation water.

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  • 1Center for Food Safety, University of Georgia, 1109 Experiment Street, Griffin, Georgia 30223-1797, USA.


Outbreaks of enterohemorrhagic Escherichia coli O157:H7 infections associated with lettuce and other leaf crops have occurred with increasing frequency in recent years. Contaminated manure and polluted irrigation water are probable vehicles for the pathogen in many outbreaks. In this study, the occurrence and persistence of E. coli O157:H7 in soil fertilized with contaminated poultry or bovine manure composts or treated with contaminated irrigation water and on lettuce and parsley grown on these soils under natural environmental conditions was determined. Twenty-five plots, each 1.8 by 4.6 m, were used for each crop, with five treatments (one without compost, three with each of the three composts, and one without compost but treated with contaminated water) and five replication plots for each treatment. Three different types of compost, PM-5 (poultry manure compost), 338 (dairy manure compost), and NVIRO-4 (alkaline-stabilized dairy manure compost), and irrigation water were inoculated with an avirulent strain of E. coli O157:H7. Pathogen concentrations were 10(7) CFU/g of compost and 10(5) CFU/ml of water. Contaminated compost was applied to soil in the field as a strip at 4.5 metric tons per hectare on the day before lettuce and parsley seedlings were transplanted in late October 2002. Contaminated irrigation water was applied only once on the plants as a treatment in five plots for each crop at the rate of 2 liters per plot 3 weeks after the seedlings were transplanted. E. coli O157:H7 persisted for 154 to 217 days in soils amended with contaminated composts and was detected on lettuce and parsley for up to 77 and 177 days, respectively, after seedlings were planted. Very little difference was observed in E. coli O157:H7 persistence based on compost type alone. E. coli O157:H7 persisted longer (by > 60 days) in soil covered with parsley plants than in soil from lettuce plots, which were bare after lettuce was harvested. In all cases, E. coli O157:H7 in soil, regardless of source or crop type, persisted for > 5 months after application of contaminated compost or irrigation water.

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