Bacterial pathogens may survive and regrow in finished compost due to incomplete thermal inactivation during or recontamination after composting. Twenty-nine finished composts were obtained from 19 U.S. states and were separated into three broad feedstock categories: biosolids (n=10), manure (n=4), and yard waste (n=15). Three replicates of each compost were inoculated with ≈1–2 log CFU/g of nonpathogenic Escherichia coli, Salmonellaspp., and E. coli O157:H7.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) protocols and U.S. Composting Council’s (USCC) Test Methods for the Examination of Composting and Compost (TMECC) were compared to determine which method recovered higher percentages of inoculated E. coli (representing fecal coliforms) and Salmonella spp. from 400-g samples of finished composts. Populations of Salmonella spp. and E. coli O157:H7 were determined over 3 days while stored at 25°C and compared to physicochemical parameters to predict their respective regrowth potentials.
EPA Method 1680 recovered significantly (p=0.0003) more inoculated E. coli(68.7%) than TMECC 07.01 (48.1%) due to the EPA method using more compost in the initial homogenate, larger transfer dilutions, and a larger most probable number scheme compared to TMECC 07.01. The recoveries of inoculated Salmonella spp. by Environmental Protection Agency Method 1682 (89.1%) and TMECC 07.02 (72.4%) were not statistically significant (p=0.44). The statistically similar recovery percentages may be explained by the use of a nonselective pre-enrichment step used in both methods. No physicochemical parameter (C:N, moisture content, total organic carbon) was able to serve as a sole predictor of regrowth of Salmonella spp. or E. coliO157:H7 in finished compost. However, statistical analysis revealed that the C:N ratio, total organic carbon, and moisture content all contributed to pathogen regrowth potential in finished composts. It is recommended that the USCC modify TMECC protocols to test larger amounts of compost in the initial homogenate to facilitate greater recovery of target organisms.
Comparison of U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Composting Council microbial detection methods in finished compost and regrowth potential of Salmonella spp. and Escherichia coli O157:H7 in finished compost
Foodborne Pathogens and Disease. July 2014, 11(7): 555-567. doi:10.1089/fpd.2013.1698.
Reynnells Russell, Ingram David T., Roberts Cheryl, Stonebraker Richard, Handy Eric T., Felton Gary, Vinyard Bryan T., Millner Patricia D., and Sharma Manan.