Archive for November, 2013

Q&A: Does organic produce have a greater risk of E. coli?

Question from Linda Middlesworth in Sacramento, CA:

Someone has told me that organic veggies have a greater risk of ecoli, etc. because they have an easier time entering the plant at the root through fecal manure!!   HELP!!
Answer by Greg Litus
The issue of E. coli, salmonella, listeria or other human killing pathogens is not directly related to organic agriculture or fresh produce.  All those pathogens come from animal sources.  In most cases it comes from industrial animal production that has either contaminated crops through the direct application of manures or composts.  However, it can come from wild animals if food handling procedures are not stringent.  It may also come from poor hygiene practiced by agricultural workers, improper storage or cross contamination from other animal sources.  The listeria contamination that killed 30+ people in Colorado did not come from the cantaloupes.  It apparently came from the fact that the growers delivered overripe melons to a local feedlot.  Waste from that feedlot contaminated the truck and that contamination was carried back to the packing shed at the cantaloupe farm.  Poor cleaning procedures allowed the listeria to spread “onto” other fresh cantaloupes, not “into” them through root uptake.

Plants grown organically do not have a greater propensity than conventionally grown produce to take up bacteria though their roots.  However, because of the use of manure based composts, animals incorporated into the production systems and less focus on GAP (good agricultural practice) standards, animal based pathogens can enter some plants through their roots.  Lettuces root, for example, do allow bacteria in through their roots.  However, for that pathway to become a serious concern the soils would have to be heavily contaminated with those pathogens.  Because many of those pathogens thrive only in oxygen deficient atmospheres, healthy soils do not typically contain high concentrations of them.
That is the short version of pathogens in fresh produce.  At Animal Place our veganic systems are inherently less likely to contain contamination from any animal source.  However, because wild turkeys and other birds frequent the farm, their droppings are always a concern for us.  We ask that anyone who eats fresh produce wash that produce before eating.  In addition we only ship produce that passes a visual inspection for cleanliness.  Further, all our greens, root vegetables and any other vegetable that can be washed is cleaned using potable water in well maintained stainless steel sinks that are sterilized on a regular basis.  I think you will find that many small growers are moving toward a similar system because it maintains the high quality of the produce and establishes a standard of excellence.  Of course, we have shown through the our CSA and produce sales that animals or animal products do not belong in vegetable production.  When all forms of animal agriculture are eliminated I suspect that the pathogens that find their way to produce will be nearly eliminated as well.
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