Water is used in every stage of an agricultural operation, making it a significant component for farm safety procedures, including good agricultural practices (GAPs) and good handling practices (GHPs).
Applying contaminated water during any activity can introduce pathogens that may harm consumers. This is true for activities before harvest such as irrigation and pesticide application, and activities after harvest such as washing produce and processing.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has identified agricultural water as one of the main routes of produce contamination. Water can be both a source of contamination as well as a way that contamination is spread. Growers must take a proactive role in managing water to reduce the risks of microorganisms such as E. coli, Salmonella and hepatitis A, all of which can cause foodborne illness.
Agricultural water can come from many sources, including rivers, wells and municipal supplies. Agricultural water may vary in quality. Water can be clean one day and contaminated the next. Also, surface water can contaminate groundwater.
You can prevent water contamination by using the following recommendations:
- Ensure that wells are in good working condition.
- Review practices and conditions to identify potential contamination sources.
- Know the land’s current and historical uses (including whether manure is being applied to the land by farms in the surrounding area).
- Use and maintain fences or other barriers around animals to reduce access to water sources.
- Have controls in place to minimize the potential for other farm operations to contaminate agricultural waters.
- Learn how local rainfall affects the chances of contaminated runoff reaching surface water.
Testing Agricultural Water
While growers should focus on GAPs to maintain water quality, periodically testing the water supply can be useful. Water can be tested for microbial contamination by a qualified commercial or government laboratory. However, water that is free from harmful bacteria may still contain protozoa or viruses, so growers should consult a specialist or their local UF/IFAS Extension office.
Adapted and excerpted from:
K. R. Schneider, R. Goodrich-Schneider, and D. L. Archer, “Food Safety on the Farm: Good Agricultural Practices and Good Handling Practices—Water (FSHN06-02),” UF/IFAS Food Science and Human Nutrition Department (rev. 02/2013).
“FDA’s Proposed Produce Safety Regulations – Focus on Agricultural Water Standards,” Penn State Extension (09/2013).
“FSMA Facts,” FDA (2013).