The effect of vegetation barriers at reducing the transmission of Salmonella and Escherichia coli from animal operations to fresh produce

Int J Food Microbiol. 2021 Jun 2:347:109196. doi: 10.1016/j.ijfoodmicro.2021.109196. Epub 2021 Apr 14.


Due to the recent outbreaks of Salmonella and Escherichia coli in fresh produce in the United States, the transfer of foodborne pathogens between animal feeding operations and fresh produce continues to be a considerable risk. The purpose of this study was to determine if the establishment of a vegetation barrier (VB) on small-scale sustainable farms could prevent the transmission of Salmonella and E. coli to nearby fresh produce fields. A 5-layer VB (31 × 49 m) was constructed between a dairy farm, a poultry farm, and a nearby produce field. Fresh produce (i.e., romaine lettuce and tomato), animal feces, and environmental (i.e., air, soil, and barrier) samples were collected for 15 months from 2018 to 2019. Four replicates of soil and fresh produce samples were taken from three plots located 10 m, 61 m, and 122 m away from the respective animal locations and processed for Salmonella and E. coli. Air and vegetative strip samples were sampled at 15-day intervals. Multiple colonies were processed from each positive sample, and a total of 143 positive Salmonella (n = 15) and E. coli (n = 128) isolates were retrieved from the soil, produce, air, and fecal samples. Interestingly, 18.2% of the Salmonella and E. coli isolates (n = 26) were recovered from fresh produce (n = 9) samples. Surprisingly, Salmonella isolates (n = 9) were only found in fecal (n = 3) samples collected from the dairy pasture. Data analysis suggests that the VB is an effective tool at reducing the transmission of E. coli and Salmonella from animal farms to fresh produce fields. However, based on phenotypic and genotypic testing, it is clear that fecal samples from animal farms are not the only source of pathogen contamination. This indicates that the environment (e.g., soil and wind), as well as the initial setup of the farm (e.g., proximity to service roads and produce plot placement), can contribute to the contamination of fresh produce. Our study recommends the need for more effective bioremediation and prevention control measures to use in conjunction with VBs to reduce pathogen transmission.

Keywords: Dairy; Distance; Poultry; Repetitive PCR; Seasonality; Wind.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cattle
  • Dairying
  • Escherichia coli / growth & development
  • Escherichia coli / isolation & purification*
  • Escherichia coli Infections / transmission*
  • Escherichia coli Infections / veterinary
  • Farms
  • Feces / microbiology
  • Lactuca / microbiology*
  • Poultry / microbiology
  • Salmonella / growth & development
  • Salmonella / isolation & purification*
  • Salmonella Infections, Animal / transmission*
  • Solanum lycopersicum / microbiology*