Small Produce Farm Environments Can Harbor Diverse Listeria monocytogenes and Listeria spp. Populations

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A comprehensive understanding of foodborne pathogen diversity in preharvest environments is necessary to effectively track pathogens on farms and identify sources of produce contamination. As such, this study aimed to characterize Listeria diversity in wildlife feces and agricultural water collected from a New York state produce farm over a growing season. Water samples were collected from a pond (n = 80) and a stream (n = 52). Fecal samples (n = 77) were opportunistically collected from areas <5 m from the water sources; all samples were collected from a <0.5-km(2) area. Overall, 86 (41%) and 50 (24%) of 209 samples were positive for Listeria monocytogenes and Listeria spp. (excluding L. monocytogenes), respectively. For each positive sample, one L. monocytogenes or Listeria spp. isolate was speciated by sequencing the sigB gene, thereby allowing for additional characterization based on the sigB allelic type. The 86 L. monocytogenes and 50 Listeria spp. isolates represented 8 and 23 different allelic types, respectively. A subset of L. monocytogenes isolates (n = 44) from pond water and pond-adjacent feces (representing an similar to 5,000-m(2) area) were further characterized by pulsed-field gel electrophoresis (PFGE); these 44 isolates represented 22 PFGE types, which is indicative of considerable diversity at a small spatial scale. Ten PFGE types were isolated more than once, suggesting persistence or reintroduction of PFGE types in this area. Given the small spatial scale, the prevalence of L. monocytogenes and Listeria spp., as well as the considerable diversity among isolates, suggests traceback investigations may be challenging. For example, traceback of finished product or processing facility contamination with specific subtypes to preharvest sources may require collection of large sample sets and characterization of a considerable number of isolates. Our data also support the adage "absence of evidence does not equal evidence of absence" as applies to L. monocytogenes traceback efforts at the preharvest level. HIGHLIGHTS There is considerable Listeria diversity in the farm environment investigated. Listeria subtypes were reintroduced or persisted over the growing season. Four L. monocytogenes PFGE types were shared between feces and pond samples.



Agricultural water, Feces, Listeria, Pulsed-field gel electrophoresis, sigB