Irrigation water as source of foodborne pathogens on fruit and vegetables

J Food Prot. 2004 Dec;67(12):2839-49. doi: 10.4315/0362-028x-67.12.2839.


Awareness is growing that fresh or minimally processed fruit and vegetables can be sources of disease-causing bacteria, viruses, protozoa, and helminths. Irrigation with poor-quality water is one way that fruit and vegetables can become contaminated with foodborne pathogens. Groundwater, surface water, and human wastewater are commonly used for irrigation. The risk of disease transmission from pathogenic microorganisms present in irrigation water is influenced by the level of contamination; the persistence of pathogens in water, in soil, and on crops; and the route of exposure. Groundwater is generally of good microbial quality, unless it is contaminated with surface runoff; human wastewater is usually of very poor microbial quality and requires extensive treatment before it can be used safely to irrigate crops; surface water is of variable microbial quality. Bacteria and protozoa tend to show the poorest survival outside a human host, whereas viruses and helminths can remain infective for months to years. Guidelines governing irrigation water quality and strategies to reduce the risk of disease transmission by foodborne pathogens in irrigation are discussed.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Consumer Product Safety
  • Food Contamination / analysis
  • Food Contamination / prevention & control*
  • Food Microbiology*
  • Food-Processing Industry
  • Fruit / microbiology*
  • Humans
  • Vegetables / microbiology*
  • Water Microbiology*