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Is Wildlife Contaminating Your Lettuce?

Is Wildlife Contaminating Your Lettuce?

 In 2006, a deadly E. coli outbreak linked to contaminated spinach killed three people, sickened hundreds of others, and increased scrutiny regarding wildlife’s role in the spread of foodborne pathogens.

 To get at the question of whether wildlife may be linked to the contamination of some crops, NWRC and University of Wyoming researchers are studying wildlife use of lettuce and spinach fields in the San Luis Valley of south-central Colorado. Species that frequent the fields are being identified with the help of trail cameras. Researchers walk transects to collect wildlife fecal samples and any nearby produce that may be contaminated with pathogens, such as Shiga toxin-producing E. coli, Salmonella enterica, and noroviruses.  

More than 1,000,000 images from motion-activated trail cameras and over 500 fecal and produce samples have been collected so far. Findings will help producers determine whether mitigation or other wildlife damage management actions may be needed to help protect their crops.

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