Irrigation water is perhaps the leading pre-harvest source of contamination of fresh produce in the world. In this review, the impact of contaminated surface irrigation water on bacterial contamination of fresh produce was examined. Some practical solutions to prevent or reduce this challenge were also considered. In South Africa, fruit and vegetables are produced on a large scale by commercial farmers who depend on surface water for their cultivation. However, the surface water, that is, rivers- has been reported to be heavily contaminated withEscherichia coli and feacal coliforms. There is a concern that contaminated surface water used for irrigation may contaminate fresh vegetables which may also have a negative effect on the export of vegetables to the EU and USA. Consumption of vegetables contaminated with foodborne pathogens presents a public health risk especially in countries like South Africa that has more than 5 million people with immune-system compromised diseases such as HIV and tuberculosis. Other groups of people that may be negatively affected because of the contaminated surface water are those who are directly and indirectly associated with the production of fresh vegetables such as pickers, handlers, packers and farmers that participate in the production of vegetables during pre-harvest and post-harvest. Prevention of contamination of fresh produce from both pre-harvest and post-harvest sources especially irrigation water still remains the only effective way to protect the public. However, for this to occur, every stakeholder in the production industry must have a culture of food safety.
Key words: Irrigation water, pathogens, fresh produce.
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