Although the bacterium is linked to fecal matter, researchers don't know quite where in the agricultural production environment the bacterium is, according to a news release.
In the second of a three-year study with the Food and Drug Administration, the team seeks to better understand the link among Salmonella, potential reservoirs and commercial tomato production.
North Carolina has never had an outbreak of salmonellosis in commercial tomatoes, yet nearby states have.
Why not North Carolina?
“The purpose of the study is to locate environmental reservoirs of Salmonella,” Chris Gunter, assistant professor of horticultural science, said in the release. “These bacteria can exist in the environment. We want to know where.”
Part of the research involves collecting water and sediment samples from two streams and a pond used for tomato irrigation.
E. coli also is associated with fecal matter and is typically used as an indicator species for water quality.
But the researchers want to find out whether E. coli is truly a reliable indicator of water quality and the possible presence of Salmonella.
And not all Salmonella are created equal, either. Some strains are more virulent than others and may require a lower dose to cause illness.
Once the reservoirs have been identified, then researchers can craft management recommendations.