Are You Growing Leafy Greens? Here's Why You Need Your Irrigation Water Tested

If you're beginning to grow leafy greens like lettuce and spinach or you already have an operation underway, one of the most important things you need to keep on top of is your irrigation water quality. Irrigation water can be a source of harmful pathogens which can cause serious illnesses in those who buy and consume your produce. Here's what you need to know about why you should have your water tested.

What Pathogens Could Be in Your Greens?

There are a multitude of pathogens that can attack leafy vegetables. Most of them fall into one of three main categories: viral pathogens, bacterial pathogens, and protozoan pathogens. One of the most common viral pathogens found in leafy greens is norovirus. Norovirus can come in several strains, and is known for the violent vomiting and diarrhoea it often causes in those who ingest it. Even more troubling is the presence of Hepatitis A; this virus causes unpleasant symptoms (like stomach pains and fever) which can last for several months. Well known bacterial pathogens in leafy greens include salmonella and STEC, which both cause painful abdominal problems. Protozoan pathogens are parasites which lodge in the intestinal system, and some of them are impossible to completely eradicate from the body. 

Why are Leafy Greens in Particular Danger?

The pathogens found in irrigation water can affect a multitude of plants, but leafy greens are particularly susceptible to passing on illnesses to humans. One of the main reasons for this is that leafy greens don't have an outer shell, skin, or rind to protect the edible part of the plant. The other crucial factor is the way leafy greens are eaten. While some, like broccoli, are usually cooked before eating, many are eaten raw as part of a salad or garnish. This means that the plants are never exposed to high enough temperatures to kill the bacteria, viruses, and parasites which have contaminated them.

How Can You Avoid Contamination?

The best way to prevent your leafy greens from being contaminated is to have your irrigation water tested by a water testing lab. Your lab will either send you a sample collection kit or come to your facility to collect a sample themselves. They'll be able to find out what pathogens (if any) are in your water, as well as other important figures like the salinity and sodicity levels present. Once you know all the facts about your water quality, you can begin to look into changing your water source or having your water treated and filtered before use.