Microbial Quality of Agricultural Water Used in Pre-harvest Production on the Eastern Shore of Virginia
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Several produce-borne outbreaks have been associated with the use of contaminated water during pre-harvest applications. Salmonella has been implicated in a number of these outbreaks. The purpose of this study was to evaluate the microbial quality of agricultural surface water used in pre-harvest production on the Eastern Shore of Virginia in accordance to the Food Safety Modernization Act’s Produce Safety Rule water standards. The study also examined the prevalence, concentration, and diversity of Salmonella in those water sources. Water samples (1 L) from 20 agricultural ponds were collected during the 2015 and 2016 growing seasons (n=400). Total aerobic bacteria, total coliforms, and generic E. coli were enumerated for each sample. Population levels of each microorganism were calculated per 100 mL sample and log transformed, when necessary. Samples (250 mL) were also enriched for Salmonella. Presumptive Salmonella isolates were confirmed by PCR of the invA gene and were serotyped. In 2016, the concentration of Salmonella in each sample was also estimated by MPN. Indicator bacteria, and environmental and meteorological factors were analyzed for their association with the detection of a Salmonella-positive water sample using logistic regression analysis. Seventeen of the 20 ponds met the FSMA PSR standards for production agricultural water. Three ponds did not meet the standards because the statistical threshold value exceeded the limit. Salmonella was detected in 19% of water samples in each year (38/200; 2015 and 38/200; 2016). Of the 118 Salmonella isolates serotyped, 14 serotypes were identified with the most prevalent being S. Newport. Generic Escherichia coli concentration, total aerobic bacteria concentration, and farm were significantly associated with the likelihood of detecting a Salmonella-positive sample. The average concentration of Salmonella in all samples was 4.44 MPN/100 mL, with the limit of detection being 3 MPN/100 mL. The highest concentration of Salmonella was 93 MPN/100 mL. These data will assist in understanding the risks of production water poses to produce contamination events.