Assessment of Foodborne Pathogen Survival During Production and Pre-harvest Application of Compost and Compost Tea
Ingram, David Thomas
Joseph, Sam W
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The use of compost in crop production systems as a soil amendment is recognized by both conventional and organic plant production practitioners as a means to increase yields and reduce the incidence of foliar diseases. Compost tea (CT), an aqueous extract of the biological components of compost, is also recognized as a means to broadcast the phytopathogen-reducing components of compost directly to the surfaces of plants where many foliar diseases become established. CT has been shown to control the proliferation of a variety of foliar diseases in many turf, crop and horticulture production systems when applied directly to the foliar surfaces of plants. This dissertation research was designed to address several pre-harvest food safety issues concerning compost and compost teas. Three objectives were pursued to establish whether the use of compost and compost teas as pre-harvest practices may introduce foodborne pathogens into the food supply and, therefore, contribute to the incidence of foodborne illness. The first objective involved a microbiological survey of commercially available compost in the U.S. to determine the prevalence of fecal coliforms, <italic>Escherichia coli</italic>, <italic>Salmonella</italic> and enterococci that might be reaching consumers through contaminated fruit and vegetables. The second objective was to investigate the ability of these foodborne pathogens to propagate during the production of CT. The third objective involved a field study examining the potential of CT to disseminate <italic>E. coli</italic> into organic and conventional strawberry production systems. The effects of CT on the fruit yield, phytopathogen suppression, as well as the potential for foodborne pathogen survival on the fruit surfaces were examined. This project provided important information and recommendations for the safe production and pre-harvest application of compost and compost teas. It was contended that, with proper attention to the manufacture and storage of compost and with simple modification of current trends in CT production systems, the current threshold of pre-harvest introduction of foodborne pathogens could be significantly reduced.