Unhealthy fruits and vegetables

Salmonella-tainted rainwater can infect our crops

Salmonella is ubiquitously associated with poultry, especially chicken. But recent outbreaks of the bacteria in fruits and vegetables including alfalfa sprouts, cantaloupes and peanuts have led scientists to a new discovery about how salmonella contaminates our food. The culprit: precipitation. Researchers at the University of Georgia in Athens have found that after a downpour, rainwater that collects on the ground can become infected with salmonella, which exists in the feces and vomit of animals and humans. If that water is used to irrigate crops or is absorbed into the soil, the fruits and vegetables can contract salmonella. What’s more, the run-off from rivers and streams that contain salmonella can also contaminate crops growing nearby. The scientists, incidentally, began this research to better understand salmonella outbreaks in Georgia, where many of the worst contaminations have originated, including the latest peanut epidemic, which caused 700 illnesses and cost the manufacturer $14.6 million in fines. Bird feces on a leaky roof trickled onto the peanuts inside the facility, infecting them with salmonella.

Scientific American

Looking for more?

Get the Best of Maclean's sent straight to your inbox. Sign up for news, commentary and analysis.