In this study, the transmission of Escherichia coli O157:H7 to lettuce plants through spray and surface irrigation was demonstrated. For all treatments combined, the number of plants testing positive following a single exposure to E. coli O157: H7 through spray irrigation (29 of 32 plants) was larger than the number testing positive following surface irrigation (6 of 32 plants). E. coli O157:H7 persisted on 9 of 11 plants for 20 days following spray irrigation with contaminated water. Immersion of harvested lettuce heads for 1 min in a 200 ppm chlorine solution did not eliminate all E. coli O157:H7 cells. The results of this study suggest that regardless of the irrigation method used, crops can become contaminated; therefore, the irrigation of food crops with water of unknown microbial quality should be avoided.

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