Agricultural water can be a major conduit for pathogens that can contaminate produce, which is why the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) produce safety rule sets microbial quality standards for agricultural water. FDA is currently exploring ways to simplify the agricultural water standards established by the rule, and announced its intention to extend the compliance dates for agricultural water requirements (other than for sprouts) to at least the year 2022.
Knowing the quality of water used to grow fresh produce is important even before water quality compliance dates come into effect. The only action recommended right now is for growers to test their water quality. Growers should focus on understanding the quality of water they use during production of fresh produce, including for irrigation, mixing with sprays, post-harvest washing and other uses. Growers who have never tested their well water or surface water should begin testing for quantified generic E. coli, especially if the water directly contacts the fresh produce they grow. The only way to know E. coli levels in water is to test the water!
Further, if one of your produce buyers is asking you to be GAP certified to be able to sell to them, you will also need to test any pre- and post- harvest water that you use.
To help with this, Kansas State University and the University of Missouri Extension are offering up to 10 FREE microbial water tests per farmer for Kansas and Missouri produce growers until October 2019 through a generous USDA grant. These test results are acceptable for FSMA (regulatory) requirements, as well as for GAP pre-harvest water. Note that these lab results will not work for GAPs post-harvest water, so if you are interested in getting GAP certified, you would need to test your post-harvest water through a private lab (many MO growers use Midwest Labs in Omaha, NE).
Please contact Londa Nwadike through the contact information listed above if you have questions or would like more information on this water testing.
REVISED: February 21, 2017