Multifactorial effects of ambient temperature, precipitation, farm management, and environmental factors determine the level of generic Escherichia coli contamination on preharvested spinach.


A repeated cross-sectional study was conducted to identify farm management, environment, weather, and landscape factors that predict the count of generic Escherichia coli on spinach at the preharvest level. E. coli was enumerated for 955 spinach samples collected on 12 farms in Texas and Colorado between 2010 and 2012. Farm management and environmental characteristics were surveyed using a questionnaire. Weather and landscape data were obtained from National Resources Information databases. A two-part mixed-effect negative binomial hurdle model, consisting of a logistic and zero-truncated negative binomial part with farm and date as random effects, was used to identify factors affecting E. coli counts on spinach. Results indicated that the odds of a contamination event (non-zero versus zero counts) vary by state (odds ratio [OR] = 108.1). Odds of contamination decreased with implementation of hygiene practices (OR = 0.06) and increased with an increasing average precipitation amount (mm) in the past 29 days (OR = 3.5) and the application of manure (OR = 52.2). On contaminated spinach, E. coli counts increased with the average precipitation amount over the past 29 days. The relationship between E. coli count and the average maximum daily temperature over the 9 days prior to sampling followed a quadratic function with the highest bacterial count at around 24°C. These findings indicate that the odds of a contamination event in spinach are determined by farm management, environment, and weather factors. However, once the contamination event has occurred, the count of E. coli on spinach is determined by weather only.

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