The FDA Produce Safety Rule states that water used for irrigation purposes, likely to come into contact with the edible portion of fruit and vegetables, must not exceed a defined limit of Escherichia coli populations.
Although aquaponics has not been included in this guideline, it is worth investigating to establish a baseline for facilities to reference in produce production.
Two microbial assays were performed, one a decoupled media-based aquaponics system over one year and another on a decoupled nutrient film technique (NFT) aquaponics system over 16 days.
Water was sampled from each system over time to analyze changes in E. coli and coliforms. The geometric mean (GM) and statistical threshold variable (STV) were calculated based on E. coli populations from the irrigation source in each system.
From the first experiment, it was determined, based on the FDA Produce Safety Rule, that E. coli must be monitored more closely from June to January as they were above the advised limit.
The second experiment determined that E. coli and coliforms in the water significantly decreased over 16 days. Water should be held for 8 d and up to 16 d to reduce the likelihood of foodborne pathogens contaminating produce.
Source: Dorick, J., Hayden, M., Smith, M., Blanchard, C., Monu, E., Wells, D., & Huang, T. S. (2021). Evaluation of Escherichia coli and coliforms in aquaponic water for produce irrigation. Food Microbiology, 99, 103801.
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