September 24, 2019 / Modified sep 24, 2019 9:48 a.m.

UA researchers put food safety under a microscope in Yuma

A study is looking into the reasons behind persistent E. coli outbreaks in the produce growing region.

Romaine Lettuce Romaine lettuce field in Arizona. Lettuce is the state's top cash crop, according to the UA Cooperative Extension.
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University of Arizona scientists are investigating food safety in the Yuma area.

Researchers with the UA Cooperative Extension will use the information to provide recommendations to Yuma produce growers. The study is supported by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the state Department of Agriculture and local irrigation districts.

UA water quality researcher Channah Rock says the study was developed after the November 2018 outbreak of E. coli bacteria, which was linked to romaine lettuce grown in the Yuma area.

"Although industry always thinks of food safety and producing a safe, nutritious product for consumers, outbreaks still happen," she said. "I think you see consumers wanting more transparency, additional information — and I think this project is one of those mechanisms to help increase consumer confidence."

The scientists will look at potential sources of microbial contamination in the region and search for bacteria in samples of surface water and canal sediment in the growing area. The study will cover several years to get a reading of how changing environmental conditions impact food safety.

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