UV disinfection is an effective solution for reducing E. coli levels in untreated surface water, making it a practical and reliable solution for meeting FSMA requirements.
The FSMA regulations have taken a broad approach to addressing food safety issues, extending beyond the production facility to the farm level. This has created new challenges for farmers, who now have increased responsibility for ensuring produce safety. A potential solution is provided by UV treatment of the irrigation water in agriculture.
Over the past few years, numerous recalls have been associated with contaminated produce. Bacteria can enter the product through various routes, including irrigation water, production-level cleaning and washing, and soil contamination. The FSMA regulations aim to tackle these issues, especially the irrigation water guidelines, which require farmers to be more vigilant in ensuring compliance.
Most farms use irrigation water from untreated sources like rivers, lakes, or ponds. The new FSMA regulations may require farmers to treat their water to make it safe for irrigation. Key requirements of the FDA final rule on produce safety include the following:
The new regulations will have the greatest impact on farms whose initial test results exceed the GM and STV limits set by the FDA. Farms that use untreated surface water for direct or indirect production contact will need to consider alternative sources or implement microbial treatment (chlorination, ozone, UV, etc.) for their water source.
At the 2016 IAFP conference in St. Louis, Missouri, researchers from LSU presented a paper on the effectiveness of UV-C light treatment in reducing microbial levels in surface water used for the irrigation of cantaloupes. Despite the turbid water source and low UV transmission, UV was consistently effective in reducing E. coli levels to below FDA limits. Additionally, UV treatment has the added benefit of not leaving harmful residuals that could affect plant growth, as is the case with chlorination.
This new research demonstrates UV as a potential solution for farms to ensure compliance with E. coli regulations. The consistent effectiveness of UV suggests it could also play a role in ensuring compliance for water used for direct or indirect produce contact, where E. coli regulatory limits are even more stringent.
FSMA regulations require farmers to take an innovative approach to ensuring safe produce. With the requirements for irrigation water, farmers may need to consider new methods of water treatment to ensure they meet these regulations. UV disinfection has been shown to be an effective solution for reducing E. coli levels in untreated surface water, providing a solution for farmers who are looking to meet FSMA requirements. With its compact footprint, low maintenance requirements, and consistent effectiveness, UV disinfection is a practical and reliable solution for ensuring safe produce.
More information on the FDA final rule on produce safety including compliance dates can be found at this link.