ABSTRACT

The Food Safety Modernization Act Produce Safety Rule requires covered produce growers to monitor the quality of their agricultural water on a regular basis by some U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)–approved methods recognized by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. In this study, we evaluated the changes in the population of indicator organisms in surface water up to 6 months, and the effects of water source and holding temperature on the survival of indicator organisms by seven EPA-approved methods (five methods for Escherichia coli and two methods for Enterococcus). The levels of E. coli and Enterococcus in the surface water were variable with sampling month, ranging from 1.61 ± 0.04 to 2.68 ± 0.15 log most probable number (MPN)/100 mL and from undetectable level to 1.19 ± 0.29 log MPN/100 mL, respectively. At 25°C (holding temperature), there were significant reductions (P < 0.05) in E. coli and Enterococcus populations in surface water after 48 and 24 h, respectively, whereas at 4°C, no significant changes in the bacterial populations were observed up to 48 h. Methods 1603, 1604, 1103.1, 10029, and Colilert showed a comparable sensitivity in quantifying E. coli, whereas method 1600 and Enterolert showed a variable sensitivity with the type of water. The results indicated that regular monitoring of agricultural water is essential to examine whether the microbial quality of water is appropriate for its intended use. Water samples should be maintained at 4°C to minimize the changes in microbial populations between sampling and testing. The comparison of the sensitivity of EPA methods for quantifying indicator organisms could provide growers with useful information for choosing the method for their water quality analysis.

HIGHLIGHTS
  • Indicator organisms' levels in surface water were evaluated for 6 months.

  • E. coli and Enterococcus levels in surface water were variable with sampling month.

  • At 25°C, E. coli populations reduced significantly after 48 h of holding time.

  • Methods 1603, 1604, 1103.1, 10029, and Colilert showed a comparable sensitivity.

  • Method 1600 and Enterolert showed a variable sensitivity with the type of water.

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