Incidence of fecal indicator and pathogenic bacteria in reclaimed and return flow waters in Arizona, USA

Libin Zhu, Monique Torres, Walter Q. Betancourt, Manan Sharma, Shirley A. Micallef, Charles Gerba, Amy R. Sapkota, Amir Sapkota, Salina Parveen, Fawzy Hashem, Eric May, Kalmia Kniel, Mihai Pop, Sadhana Ravishankar

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Scopus citations


The quality of irrigation water used to cultivate produce that is consumed raw is an important issue with regard to food safety. In this study, the microbiological quality of potential irrigation water sources in Arizona was evaluated by testing for the presence of indicator and pathogenic bacteria. Reclaimed water samples were collected from two wastewater treatment plants and return flow samples were collected from two drainage canals and one return flow pond. Standard membrane filtration methods were used for detection of indicator bacteria. Water samples (n = 28) were filtered through cellulose ester membrane filters and bacterial populations were enumerated by placing the filters on selective agar. For detection of pathogens (Salmonella enterica, Listeria monocytogenes and Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC)), water samples were filtered through Modified Moore swabs and enriched in Universal Pre-enrichment Broth, followed by selective enrichment broth for each pathogen. The enriched broth was streaked onto agar media selective for each pathogen. Presumptive colonies were confirmed by PCR/real-time PCR. Among the 14 reclaimed water samples from two sites, the ranges of recovered populations of E. coli, total coliforms, and enterococci were 0–1.3, 0.5–8.3 × 103, and 0–5.5 CFU/100 mL, respectively. No L. monocytogenes, Salmonella or STEC were found. In the 13 return flow water samples from 3 sites, the ranges of recovered populations of E. coli, total coliforms and enterococci were 1.9–5.3 × 102, 6.5 × 102−9.1 × 104, and 2.9–3.7× 103 CFU/100 mL, respectively. All samples were negative for L. monocytogenes. One (7.1%) of the return flow samples was positive for E. coli O145. Nine (64.3%) of the samples were positive for Salmonella. Both real-time PCR and culture-based methods were used for the detection of Salmonella and L. monocytogenes, and the results from the two methods were comparable. The findings of this study provide evidence that irrigation waters in Arizona, including reclaimed water and return flows, could be potential sources of bacterial contamination of produce. Additional work is needed to evaluate whether bacteria present in irrigation water sources transfer to the edible portion of irrigated plants and are capable of persisting through post-harvest activities.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)122-127
Number of pages6
JournalEnvironmental Research
StatePublished - Mar 2019


  • Indicator bacteria
  • Listeria monocytogenes
  • Reclaimed water
  • Return flows
  • Salmonella enterica
  • Shiga toxin-producing E. coli

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry
  • General Environmental Science


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