Access to large sources of quality water for irrigation is fundamental to the hygienic cultivation of fresh produce. However, due to factors such as contamination of water bodies, access to clean uncontaminated water is fast becoming an ever increasing global challenge. The unavailability of quality source water increases the risk of contamination of fresh produce with human pathogenic microorganisms, which may compromise public health. Over the past few years, there has been a decline in the microbiological quality of surface water and other sources used for irrigation. This is mainly due to upstream fecal contamination. Therefore, the assessment and subsequent suitability of alternative water sources for irrigation such as roof-harvested rainwater should be considered. Contrasting views regarding the quality of roof-harvested rainwater (RHRW) have been published. Pathogens such as Salmonella and Campylobacter species and Listeria monocytogenes have been reported in RHRW. Leafy green vegetables such as cabbage, spinach, and lettuce are produced across a wide range of farming systems from regulated formal (commercial farms) to informal (small-scale and homestead gardens) setups. This review will discuss global water challenges associated with irrigation water, microbial quality of source water for irrigation, crop contamination, and pathogen detection and characterization methodologies.
This study was part of a solicited research project (K5/1875/4: Evaluation of the risks associated with the use of rainwater harvested from rooftops, for domestic use and homestead food gardens; and groundwater for domestic use and livestock watering) .