Assessing the risks associated with water quality on food safety

The quality of the water used in production and the systems used to convey it are determining factors to providing safe, wholesome produce. Assessing and evaluating risks posed to the water system are good ways to help ensure water quality.

In most cases, water is essential to fresh produce growing. The quality of the water used in growing the crop and the systems used to convey it are determining factors to providing safe, wholesome produce. The sheer number of factors that can compromise water quality can make it difficult to assess risk.

It is helpful to divide the risks up both by points in the system where the contamination can occur as well as by contamination type, such as biological or chemical. Contamination can occur either at the source, within the conveyance or at the point of emission.              

Source contaminants can be biological in nature, like livestock or wildlife in close proximity to the water source, or chemical in nature such as a mixing or loading pad running off into a water source. Conveyance contamination can occur both with biological agents, such as  if microbes grow inside irrigation equipment, or chemical agents, or if an irrigation system is inadequately flushed after chemigation.

According to Michigan State University Extension, irrigation emission points can also allow contamination entry for contaminants. By not maintaining an air gap or adequate backflow prevention, the emission point can be a gateway to contaminate the water source and, ultimately, the crop.

Once you have evaluated potential contaminants, you’ll want to develop an assessment checklist based on the evaluation. If you would like more information on developing an assessment checklist, contact the Agrifood Safety Workgroup at 517-788-4292 or Ask for Guidance Document AFSM 041-01 for a sample assessment checklist.

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