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Evaluating water sources to ensure safe fresh produce

A critical part of ensuring food safe water for produce growing is performing a water system risk assessment. It is often helpful to create a checklist to ensure that the assessment looks at the same criteria each time it is performed.

August 28, 2014 - Author: Phil Tocco, Michigan State University Extension

Clean water is essential for the safe production of fresh produce. Whether the water is used for irrigation, crop protectant applications or produce washing, quality of the water is key. A critical part of ensuring water quality is performing a water system risk assessment. In order to provide an accurate measurement from one assessment to another, it is often helpful to create a checklist to ensure that the assessment looks at the same criteria each time it is performed.

Michigan State University Extension recommends the following potential criteria for assessing your water system. Your criteria can include any or all of these. Evaluate your situation and tailor the list based on your circumstances.

  • Water tests confirm contamination has not occurred.
  • A proper chemical mixing pad is utilized to prevent chemical contamination of the water source.
  • The chemical mixing pad is located at least 150 feet from water wells or 200 feet from ponds and streams.
  • Livestock and pets are excluded from the area surrounding the water source.
  • Livestock and pets are located at least 50 feet from water wells or 300 feet from ponds, streams or lakes.
  • Actions are taken to minimize waterfowl from long-term habitation in surface waters used for irrigation.
  • Water source is an appropriate  distance from fuel storage facilities.
  • Water source is an appropriate distance from pesticide storage facilities.
  • Back-flow valves are installed on chemigation or fertigation systems.
  • When loading pesticides or herbicides, an air gap is maintained to prevent backflow and well contamination.
  • Excess pesticide and fertilizer are managed in a manner that does not impact surface waters.
  • Wellheads are properly maintained.               

Visual inspections are no substitute for regular source water testing. At a minimum, annual water tests must ensure that the water source has a sufficiently low level of generic E. coli and has acceptably low levels of nitrate for application.

If you would like more information on the importance of water quality in managing food safety, contact the Agrifood Safety Workgroup at 517-788-4292 or gaps@msu.edu.

Tags: agriculture, business, food business & regulation, fruit & nuts, msu extension, organic agriculture, safe food & water, vegetables


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