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    Listen again: Crop Science Professor talks salad safety with the BBC

    18 June 2024

    With a recent E-coli outbreak thought to have been linked to salad leaves – the BBC’s Farming Today have spoken to a Harper Adams expert to discuss crop safety.

    Jim Monaghan is Professor of Crop Science and Director of the Centre for Crop and Environmental Science - and a fresh produce expert.

    Professor Jim Monaghan checking crops.

    Speaking to the programme, he set out ways in which crops can be affected, the ways in which farmers work to keep them safe – and why he still has lettuce in his fridge.

    He said “The routes that you could contaminate a leaf are: animal manure directly coming onto products; it could be water that’s contaminated, coming onto products – or it could be soil that’s contaminated with manure, splashing onto products.

    “Essentially, the headline for all growers is: stop contaminated manure getting near your products.”

    However, as Professor Monaghan explained, there are already stringent rules which farmers have to follow to keep the public safe.

    He added: “If we think in particular about salad growers, they have to follow really strict rules about putting manure into soil, if they are putting farmyard manure into soil then they may have a period of a year, or more, before they are allowed to put a salad crop in there – that is one thing.

    “The other thing is if they are using water to irrigate crops, that could become contaminated, then they have really stringent testing regimes where they will be testing their water regularly – almost weekly – and they would be looking for threshold levels of indicator bacteria to see whether that water is going to pose a risk.”

    He spoke about the various ways in which ready to eat salads will have been washed before being packaged, but noted the best way for crops to be kept safe is for them to have been kept clean in the field – hence the stringent rules for farmers.

    Discussing the current issues and where the affected products were from, he noted: “It’s not being stated whether it’s UK or overseas.”

    “I would say we can’t overlook the summer that we’re having in the northern hemisphere – it’s not just the UK that’s wet, there’s been terrible rainstorms in France, in Spain, in Italy; and these are areas where we’d be importing crops, certainly at the beginning of a season.

    “These conditions are low light levels, they’re pretty moist – we’ve certainly had quite a lot of rain around at times – and there may even, in some places – and I haven’t really seen this in UK crops - but you could be having events where you have got flooding events, which is washing material onto crop, which could cause problems.”

    And despite this being a rare event, he noted it could have significant consequences for crop growers.

    He said: “This could be a nightmare for farmers, because you could be producing the healthiest, tastiest lettuces, and you have no problem with yours – and yet, because of an unfortunate occurrence on another business, everyone gets tarred with the same brush.

    “That can lead to loss of confidence from customers and it can lead to a reduction in demand.”

    However, as Professor Monaghan noted, he is among the many consumers who continue to purchase salad crops – or as he put it: “If I could say – I do have lettuce in my fridge!”

    Listen again to the whole interview here from 8 min 55 seconds in.

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