Skip to main content
Doctoral thesis, 2014

Microbial status of irrigation water for vegetables as affected by cultural practices

Alam, Mehboob


Human pathogens present in irrigation water can be transmitted to plants. Consumption of fruits and vegetables irrigated with pathogen-contaminated water can cause illness in humans. Leafy vegetables that are consumed fresh are particularly prone to cause such illnesses. Understanding the microbiota of irrigation water and its decontamination and introducing some preventative pre-harvest cultural practices can help procure hygienically safe horticultural produce. Variations were found in water indicator organisms, including heterotrophic plate counts, total coliforms, thermotolerant coliforms, Escherichia coli and faecal enterococci, at five different sampling sites in an irrigation water distribution system (IWDS) on a commercial vegetable-growing farm. 454-pyrosequencing data showed that the IWDS bacterial community was dominated by Bacteriodetes and Proteobacteria, with classes within these phyla, including Flavobacteriia, Sphingobacteriia, α-, β- and γ-Proteobacteria, being found at all five sampling sites. The genera Arcicella, Flavobacterium, Limnohabitans, Sejongia, Fluviicola, Escherichia, Clostridium and Legionella were present at various sites. Indicator organisms and the pathogen Salmonella in the IWDS were significantly reduced by photocatalytic treatment in most cases. Pre-harvest cultural practices to reduce pathogen load, including cessation of irrigation with contaminated water three days before harvest and decreasing the water regime of the growing medium for leafy vegetables, were assessed. The results showed that an attenuated gfp-tagged E. coli O157:H7 decreased with increasing time to harvest after cessation of irrigation, but were present in the plant phyllosphere three days after cessation, irrespective of dose applied. Similarly, both attenuated gfp-tagged E. coli O157:H7 and an attenuated strain of L. monocytogenes persisted in vegetables grown at a reduced water regime in the growing medium. Total microbiota and Enterobacteriaceae remained unchanged on plants after cessation of irrigation with contaminated water and on plants grown on different water regimes. Use of contaminated irrigation water for leafy vegetable production should thus be avoided. Photocatalytic treatment can be used to decontaminate irrigation water.


decontamination; food safety; human pathogens; irrigation water hygiene; pre-harvest cultural practices; rocket; spinach; Swiss chard

Published in

Acta Universitatis Agriculturae Sueciae
2014, number: 2013:97
ISBN: 978-91-576-7932-1, eISBN: 978-91-576-7933-8
Publisher: Dept. of Biosystems and Technology, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences

Authors' information

Alam, Mehboob
Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Department of Biosystems and Technology (VH), general

UKÄ Subject classification

Agricultural Occupational Health and Safety
Agricultural Science

URI (permanent link to this page)