Researchers found that establishing a time interval between rain/irrigation and harvesting significantly reduces the risk of exposure to bacterium.

A study published in the journal Applied and Environmental Microbiology has reported that in the case of rain or irrigation, farmers should introduce a specific interval – 24 hours to be exact – before harvesting their produce. This essentially prevents consumers from contracting various foodborne illnesses.

Pathogen In Question

Rain or irrigation creates favorable soil conditions for the growth and reproduction of Listeria monocytogenes, which causes the illness Listeriosis on ingestion along with fresh produce. Researchers found that establishing a time interval between rain/irrigation and harvesting significantly reduces the risk of exposure to the bacterium.

Many factors, such as the closeness of a field to water and topography also have an integral role in the nurturing of Listeria. Researchers conducted tests on various locations around New York and discovered that after rain/irrigation, the chances of Listeria being present in the field increases up to 25 times. However, after drying for about 24 hours, the presence of Listeria decreased dramatically – almost near baseline levels.

Redefining Existing Laws

Cornell scientists, in collaboration with agricultural researchers from various parts of the country are currently conducting further research into food safety. They plan to establish a set of rules and regulations, standards and guidelines for Food Safety Modernization Act, which was made law in 2011.

At present, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has proposed rules that allow farmers to introduce sufficient ‘wait periods’ between irrigation and harvest. They agree that this would be beneficial in killing dangerously pathogenic microbes.

“We’re looking at the science that helps governmental entities – such as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration – along with private entities create policies that keep our food supply safe,” stated Daniel Weller, a doctoral student in the field of food science and lead author of ‘Spatial and Temporal Factors Associated with an Increased Prevalence of Listeria monocytogenes in New York State Spinach Fields’.

Technology To Rescue

Combining weather data, GIS technology and other data driven information, producers and farmers can utilize modern and more sophisticated methods to manage and apply food safety regulations. Moreover, the use of such tools in improving food safety measures is enhancing consumer confidence in food products.