The California Leafy Green Products Handler Marketing Agreement (LGMA) requires leafy green crops within 9 m of the edge of a flooded field not be harvested due to potential contamination (California Leafy Green Products Handler Marketing Board, Commodity Specific Flood Safety Guidelines for the Production and Harvest of Lettuce and Leafy Greens, 2012). Further, previously flooded soils should not be replanted for 60 days.
In this study, the suitability of the LGMA metrics for farms in the Mid-Atlantic region of the United States was evaluated. The upper end of a spinach bed (in Beltsville, MD) established on a −5% grade was flooded with water containing 6 log CFU/ml Escherichia coli to model a worst-case scenario of bacterial movement through soil. Escherichia coli prevalence in soil and on foliar tissue was determined by most probable number (MPN) analysis at distances up to 9 m from the edge of the flood for 63 days. While E. coli was quickly detected at the 9-m distance within 1 day in the spring trial and within 3 days in the fall trial, no E. coli was detected on plants outside the flood zone after 14 days. On day 63 for the two trials, E. coli populations in the flood zone soil were higher in the fall than in the spring. Regression analysis predicted that the time required for a 3-log MPN/g (dry weight) decrease in E. coli populations inside the flood zone was within the 60-day LGMA guideline in the spring but would require 90 days in the fall. Overall, data suggest that the current guidelines should be revised to include considerations of field and weather conditions that may promote bacterial movement and survival.
Metrics proposed to prevent the harvest of leafy green crops exposed to floodwater contaminated with Escherichia coli
Appl. Environ. Microbiol. July 2016 vol. 82 no. 13 3746-3753, DOI: 10.1128/AEM.00052-16
Mary Theresa Callahan, Shirley A. Micallef, Manan Sharma, Patricia D. Millner, Robert L. Buchanan