Purpose: To measure the occurrence of E. coli O157:H7 and Salmonella among common species of aquatic wildlife and irrigation water pond samples in the Suwannee watershed in southeastern Georgia.
Methods: Five irrigation ponds in Georgia were enrolled during the 2011 mixed produce growing season. Animals were live-captured in and around irrigation ponds. Fecal samples and pond water were cultured for E. coli O157 and Salmonella enterica. Ecological data and water quality parameters were analyzed for each sampling event.
Results: We collected and tested a total of 510 samples. All samples were negative for E. coli O157. Salmonella was cultured from 9 (39%) of 23 Scaphiopus holbrookii (Eastern spadefoot toad), 4 (80%) of 5 Chelydra serpentina (Common snapping turtle), 20 (16%) of 123 Trachemys scripta (Red-eared slider turtle), 2 (22%) of 9 Sternotherus odoratus (Common musk turtle), 2 (40%) of 5 bivalve (fresh water clam), and 10 (39%) of 26 pond samples. Serotyping results revealed high diversity including 5 shared Salmonella serovars from animals and water (Braenderup, Montevideo, Muenchen, Saintpaul). Preliminary analysis showed a significant association (P < 0.05) between finding a Salmonella-positive animal and water temperature, dissolved oxygen, precipitation, road distance, woodland distance, type of crop, and percent vegetation around pond.
Significance: This is one of the first studies of foodborne pathogen occurrence among wildlife in a mixed produce production region of the southeastern US. The findings emphasize the need to continue to follow food safety best practices, especially those relating to environmental assessments and agriculture water.