Escherichia coli transfer from simulated wildlife feces to lettuce during foliar irrigation: A field study in the Northeastern United States
Wildlife intrusion has been associated with pathogen contamination of produce. However, few studies have examined pathogen transfer from wildlife feces to pre-harvest produce. This study was performed to calculate transfer coefficients for Escherichia coli from simulated wildlife feces to field-grown lettuce during irrigation. Rabbit feces inoculated with a 3-strain cocktail of non-pathogenic E. coli were placed in a lettuce field 2.572 h before irrigation. Following irrigation, the E. coli concentration on the lettuce was determined. After exclusion of an outlier with high E. coli levels (Most Probable Number - 5.94* 10(8)), the average percent of E. coli in the feces that transferred to intact lettuce heads was 0.0267% (Standard Error [SE] - 0.0172). Log-linear regression showed that significantly more E. coli transferred to outer leaves compared to inner leaves (Effect = 1.3; 95% Confidence Interval = 0.4, 2.1). Additionally, the percent of E. coli that transferred from the feces to the lettuce decreased significantly with time after fecal placement, and as the distance between the lettuce and the feces, and the lettuce and the sprinklers increased. These findings provide key data that may be used in future quantitative risk assessments to identify potential intervention strategies for reducing food safety risks associated with fresh produce. (C) 2017 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.