Factors affecting the occurrence of Escherichia coli O157 contamination in irrigation ponds on produce farms in the Suwannee River Watershed

Gu, Ganyu; Luo, Zhiyao; Cevallos-Cevallos, Juan M.; Adams, Paige; Vellidis, George; Wright, Anita; van Bruggen, Ariena H.C.
March 2013
Canadian Journal of Microbiology;Mar2013, Vol. 59 Issue 3, p175
Academic Journal
Outbreaks of enteritis caused by Escherichia coli O157 associated with fresh produce have resulted in questions about the safety of irrigation water; however, associated risks have not been systematically evaluated. In this study, the occurrence and distribution of the human pathogen E. coli O157 from vegetable irrigation ponds within the Suwannee River Watershed in Georgia were investigated, and the relationship to environmental factors was analyzed. Surface and subsurface water samples were collected monthly from 10 vegetable irrigation ponds from March 2011 to February 2012. Escherichia coli O157 was isolated from enriched filtrates on CHROMagar and sorbitol MacConkey agar media and confirmed by an agglutination test. Presence of virulence genes stx1, stx2 , and eae was tested by polymerase chain reaction. In addition, 27 environmental variables of the sampled ponds were measured. Denaturing gradient gel electrophoresis was conducted for the analysis of bacterial communities in the water samples. Biserial correlation coefficients were calculated to evaluate the log10 colony-forming unit per millilitre correlations between the environmental factors and the occurrence of E. coli O157. Stepwise and canonical discriminant analyses were used to determine the factors that were associated with the presence and absence of E. coli O157 in water samples. All 10 ponds were positive for E. coli O157 some of the time, mainly in summer and fall of 2011. The temporal distribution of this bacterium differed among the 10 ponds. Temperature, rainfall, populations of fecal coliform, and culturable bacteria were positively correlated with the occurrence of E. coli O157 ( P < 0.05), while the total nitrogen concentration, oxidation-reduction potential, and dissolved oxygen concentration were negatively correlated with the occurrence of this pathogen ( P < 0.05). Temperature and rainfall were the most important factors contributing to the discrimination between samples with and without E. coli O157, followed by bacterial diversity and culturable bacteria population density. Bacterial numbers and diversity, including fecal coliforms and E. coli O157, increased after rainfall (and possibly runoff from pond margins) in periods with relatively high temperatures, suggesting that prevention of runoff may be important to minimize the risk of enteric pathogens in irrigation ponds.


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