Farm management, environment, and weather factors jointly affect the probability of spinach contamination by generic Escherichia coli at the preharvest stage.


The National Resources Information (NRI) databases provide underutilized information on the local farm conditions that may predict microbial contamination of leafy greens at preharvest. Our objective was to identify NRI weather and landscape factors affecting spinach contamination with generic Escherichia coli individually and jointly with farm management and environmental factors. For each of the 955 georeferenced spinach samples (including 63 positive samples) collected between 2010 and 2012 on 12 farms in Colorado and Texas, we extracted variables describing the local weather (ambient temperature, precipitation, and wind speed) and landscape (soil characteristics and proximity to roads and water bodies) from NRI databases. Variables describing farm management and environment were obtained from a survey of the enrolled farms. The variables were evaluated using a mixed-effect logistic regression model with random effects for farm and date. The model identified precipitation as a single NRI predictor of spinach contamination with generic E. coli, indicating that the contamination probability increases with an increasing mean amount of rain (mm) in the past 29 days (odds ratio [OR] = 3.5). The model also identified the farm's hygiene practices as a protective factor (OR = 0.06) and manure application (OR = 52.2) and state (OR = 108.1) as risk factors. In cross-validation, the model showed a solid predictive performance, with an area under the receiver operating characteristic (ROC) curve of 81%. Overall, the findings highlighted the utility of NRI precipitation data in predicting contamination and demonstrated that farm management, environment, and weather factors should be considered jointly in development of good agricultural practices and measures to reduce produce contamination.

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