Factors Influencing The Ecology and Epidemiology of Microbial Indicators and Foodborne Pathogens In Surface Waters and Development of Risk Mitigations
Foodborne outbreaks have continued to be associated with produce contamination originating from on-farm sources, such as soil or agricultural water. Additionally, the heterogeneity of the pre-harvest environment complicates the development of universal strategies for managing produce safety risks. Understanding the ecology and epidemiology of foodborne pathogens and fecal indicator bacteria (FIB) by growing regions, sample types, scale of analysis, and detection method is essential for developing targeted mitigation strategies. This dissertation utilized quantitative research methods and statistical modeling to examine the impact of sampling method, spatial, temporal, meteorological, and physicochemical factors on pathogen prevalence and FIB levels. Key findings highlight that the drivers of prevalence differ between pathogens and were influenced by sample type, scale, and region.. The variations in associations emphasize that risk varies by space and time. Therefore, results support regional and scale-dependent food safety standards and guidance documents for controlling hazards to minimize risk. Additionally, the method used for pathogen detection influences prevalence highlighting the need for standard methods since methodological differences confound comparisons across studies. Furthermore, since agricultural water quality is an important food safety priority, this dissertation aimed to determine the efficacy of chemical antimicrobial sanitizers against Salmonella in pre-harvest agricultural water. Results demonstrated that certain sanitizer treatments and conditions can significantly reduce Salmonella populations in preharvest agricultural water sources and thus may serve as a risk reduction option when used correctly.