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Foodborne Pathog Dis. 2013 Jun;10(6):520-7. doi: 10.1089/fpd.2012.1403. Epub 2013 Apr 24.

Analyzing indicator microorganisms, antibiotic resistant Escherichia coli, and regrowth potential of foodborne pathogens in various organic fertilizers.

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Department of Biological Sciences, Clemson University, Clemson, South Carolina, USA.


This study analyzed various organic fertilizers for indicator microorganisms, pathogens, and antibiotic-resistant Escherichia coli, and evaluated the growth potential of E. coli O157:H7 and Salmonella in fertilizers. A microbiological survey was conducted on 103 organic fertilizers from across the United States. Moisture content ranged from approximately 1% to 86.4%, and the average pH was 7.77. The total aerobic mesophiles ranged from approximately 3 to 9 log colony-forming units (CFU)/g. Enterobacteriaceae populations were in the range of <1 to approximately 7 log CFU/g, while coliform levels varied from <1 to approximately 6 log CFU/g. Thirty samples (29%) were positive for E. coli, with levels reaching approximately 6 log CFU/g. There were no confirmed positives for E. coli O157:H7, Salmonella, or Listeria monocytogenes. The majority of E. coli isolates (n=73), confirmed by glutamate decarboxylase (gad) PCR, were from group B1 (48%) and group A (32%). Resistance to 16 antibiotics was examined for 73 E. coli isolates, with 11 isolates having resistance to at least one antibiotic, 5 isolates to ≥ 2 antibiotics, and 2 isolates to ≥ 10 antibiotics. In the presence of high levels of background aerobic mesophiles, Salmonella and E. coli O157:H7 grew approximately 1 log CFU/g within 1 day of incubation in plant-based compost and fish emulsion-based compost, respectively. With low levels of background aerobic mesophiles, Salmonella grew approximately 2.6, 3.0, 3.0, and 3.2 log CFU/g in blood, bone, and feather meals and the mixed-source fertilizer, respectively, whereas E. coli O157:H7 grew approximately 4.6, 4.0, 4.0, and 4.8 log CFU/g, respectively. Our results revealed that the microbiological quality of organic fertilizers varies greatly, with some fertilizers containing antibiotic resistant E. coli and a few supporting the growth of foodborne pathogens after reintroduction into the fertilizer.

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