From the Ground Up: Groundwater, Surface Water Runoff, and Air as Pathogen Routes for Food Contamination


  • Mark Borchardt
  • USDA-Agricultural Research Service
Project Media

 Foodborne infectious disease transmission of 31 pathogen types is estimated to account for 9.4 million illnesses, 56,000 hospitalizations, and 1,300 deaths in the United States annually (Scallan et al. 2011). The economic costs from foodborne illness in the United States are more than $50 billion per year (Scharff 2012). The Food Safety Modernization Act of 2011 recognizes agricultural water is a source of pathogen contamination of fresh produce and monitoring strategies are being proposed to assess the sanitary quality of water used for food production and processing. Nonetheless, one lesson learned from foodborne outbreaks the past several years is that the events and pathogen movement routes leading to contamination are often surprising. Food producers need to be constantly vigilant for previously unanticipated contamination routes.

This presentation tells three stories about three studies, highlighting the potential for human pathogens to travel unusual routes and end up in surprising places. Insofar as these routes and places intersect with food, foodborne illness can result.