Produce Safety Lab

Current/Ongoing Projects

Detection of Cyclospora cayetanensis in irrigation water sources


This project is in collaboration with the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) funded by the Center for Produce Safety. This research project focuses on pathogen detection, including Cyclospora cayetanensis, in irrigation water sources. This includes the prevalence of this pathogen in irrigation water in the Southeast growing region, and associated environmental factors, such as rainfall, that could increase prevalence.

This project is also assessing the utilization of environmental samples to validate a novel genotyping method for C. cayetanensis.

Prevalence of STEC and Salmonella in Agricultural Water

Fresh produce is frequently associated with foodborne outbreaks as these products easily become contaminated with foodborne pathogens from the environment and poor handling practices. At the farm level, produce can become contaminated through several sources, including water that is used for irrigation. To reduce food safety issues, the Produce Safety Rule (PSR) was created by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as part of the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA).

Currently, Rodrigues Lab is investigating water sources used for irrigation in Alabama and Georgia farms. Overall, this project will assess the microbial quality of surface water and will guide farmers in the Southeast on how to assess microbial risk in water sources. The information from this research will represent a better understanding of the current microbial quality of surface water to improve the safety of locally grown produce.

Application of essential oils as sanitizer on the post harvest washing of fresh produce

In recent years, outbreaks of foodborne illness have been attributed to human pathogens contaminating fresh produce. To prevent cross-contamination, properly sanitized water should be used to wash fresh produce.

Currently, the fresh produce is washed with chemical sanitizers, such as chlorine and peroxyacetic acid, which can damage the washing systems and expose workers to health risks risk if handled incorrectly. Essential oils (EOs) are natural aromatic extracts obtained from different plant parts known for their antibacterial properties. The purpose of this project is to formulate and evaluate different EOs emulsion as a potential antibacterial control method to be applied on the postharvest washing of fresh produce.

Bacteriophages as a sustainable food safety approach for vegetable production in controlled environment agriculture systems

This project intends to develop a valuable method to prevent Salmonella in controlled environment agriculture (CEA) vegetable production systems using bacteriophages- a naturally-occurring food safety control resource. Plants cultivated in re-circulating systems utilizing sustainable methods and have a lower environmental impact than plants grown by conventional methods. Chemical sanitizers such as chlorine and peroxyacetic acid are currently being used to treat irrigation water in these systems. However, these chemicals are harmful to beneficial bacteria in aquaponic systems and have a negative impact in the environment. Locally grown produce free of pesticides or other harmful chemicals have become popular in recent years. Therefore, to maintain and protect the microbial equilibrium in the environment, natural alternatives, such as bacteriophages, can be used to decrease the use of chemical pesticides in CEA systems.

This is a collaborative project with Dr. Stuart Price and Dr. Steven Kitchens from Auburn University’s Department of Pathobiology.






Assistant Extension Professor
275 CASIC Building
559 Devall Dr.
Auburn Univ, AL 36849