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Yuma Agricultural Region Environmental Microbiology Study (2019 – present)

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FDA, in collaboration with the University of Arizona, the Wellton-Mohawk Irrigation and Drainage District, local growers, industry groups, and others, is conducting a multi-year study designed to improve our understanding of the environmental factors that impact the presence of foodborne pathogens in the Yuma agricultural region — a major growing region for leafy greens sold in the United States.  We are particularly interested in identifying factors that significantly contribute to the introduction, persistence, growth, and spread of pathogens that could contaminate produce prior to harvest.  We are also interested in identifying factors that contribute to pathogen die-off.

This study involves collecting environmental samples throughout the year.  Samples will be collected from irrigation waters, soil, sediments, air, animal fecal material, wildlife scat, and other sources across approximately 7,000 acres (12% of the Wellton-Mohawk Irrigation and Drainage District’s agricultural production area).  Special attention will be given to the geography of the study region and the types and locations of agricultural and other land use activities relative to produce production areas.  For example, there is a Concentrated Animal Feed Operation (CAFO) in proximity to some of the produce production areas being studied.  Pertinent meteorological information (air temperature, wind speed and direction, rainfall, etc.) will be logged.  Field samples will be analyzed using microbial culture methods, metagenomics, and whole genome sequencing to identify pathogens and microbiological organisms that can be indicators of unhygienic conditions.  Through repeated sample collection, testing, measurement, and observation, we hope to gain insight into fluctuations in the types and prevalence of pathogens and indicator organisms over time, including variability across different seasons.  Complementing the environmental surveillance, laboratory studies will explore how the pathogens collected from the study area adapt to different growing conditions and interact with host produce plants, which also may lead to new approaches for limiting or eliminating pathogens in growing areas.

The findings of this study will contribute to a better understanding of the impact various environmental factors can have on food safety.  This information, in combination with the findings from studies like it, can be used to refine best practices for growers, so they may continually improve the safety of their products.

Study Related Announcements

Study Collaborators

  • FDA
  • Arizona Department of Agriculture
  • Arizona Game & Fish Department
  • The Desert Food Safety Coalition
  • The University of Arizona, Department of Environmental Science
  • The University of Arizona, Maricopa Agricultural Center
  • The University of Arizona, Yuma Agricultural Center
  • USDA APHIS Wildlife Services
  • Wellton-Mohawk Irrigation and Drainage District
  • Yuma Fresh Vegetable Association
  • Yuma Safe Produce Council
  • Local growers and industry members
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