This randomized controlled trial characterized the transfer of E. coli from animal feces and/or furrow water onto adjacent heads of lettuce during foliar irrigation, and the subsequent survival of bacteria on the adaxial surface of lettuce leaves. Two experiments were conducted in Salinas Valley, California: (1) to quantify the transfer of indicator E. coli from chicken and rabbit fecal deposits placed in furrows to surrounding lettuce heads on raised beds, and (2) to quantify the survival of inoculated E. coli on Romaine lettuce over 10 days. E. coli was recovered from 97% (174/180) of lettuce heads to a maximal distance of 162.56 cm (5.33 ft) from feces. Distance from sprinklers to feces, cumulative foliar irrigation, and lettuce being located downwind of the fecal deposit were positively associated, while distance from fecal deposit to lettuce was negatively associated with E. coli transference. E. coli exhibited decimal reduction times of 2.2 and 2.5 days when applied on the adaxial surface of leaves within a chicken or rabbit fecal slurry, respectively. Foliar irrigation can transfer E. coli from feces located in a furrow onto adjacent heads of lettuce, likely due to the kinetic energy of irrigation droplets impacting the fecal surface and/or impacting furrow water contaminated with feces, with the magnitude of E. coli enumerated per head of lettuce influenced by the distance between lettuce and the fecal deposit, cumulative application of foliar irrigation, wind aspect of lettuce relative to feces, and time since final irrigation. Extending the time period between foliar irrigation and harvest, along with a 152.4 cm (5 ft) no-harvest buffer zone when animal fecal material is present, may substantially reduce the level of bacterial contamination on harvested lettuce.
- E. Coli (all potentially pathogenic types)
- EHEC (enterohaemorrhagic E. Coli)
- Food safety
- Microbial contamination
- Romaine lettuce
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Microbiology (medical)