Developing a Decision-making Tool for Agricultural Surface Water Decontamination Using Ultraviolet-C Light

Elsevier, Journal of Food Protection, Volume 86, September 2023
Haley O.C., Zhao Y., Hefley T., Britton L.L., Nwadike L., Rivard C. et al.

Ultraviolet-C (UV-C) light-assisted water treatment systems are an increasingly investigated alternative to chemical sanitizers for agricultural surface water decontamination. However, the relatively high concentration of particulate matter in surface water is a major challenge to expanding its application in the production of fresh produce. The objective of this project was to test the efficacy of two commercial UV-C devices to reduce the microbial risk of agricultural water in order to develop a web application to assist growers in decision-making related to the on-farm implementation of UV-C technologies for agricultural water treatment. An on-farm study using three agricultural water sources was performed to determine the microbial reduction efficacy of a low power, low flow (LP/LF; 1–9 gallons per minute (GPM), 1.34-gallon capacity) and a high powered, high flow (HP/HF; 1–110 GPM, 4.75-gallon capacity) device at flow rates of 6, 7, and 9 GPM. A threshold of 30% UVT for the HP/HF device was observed, wherein lower water transmissibility significantly impacted microbial inactivation. Although less effective at lower %UVT, the LP/LF device costs less to install, maintain, and operate. The observations were used to design an online tool for growers to calculate the predicted reduction of generic Escherichia coli using either device based on the %UVT of their water source. However, because this study utilized an exploratory and proof-of-concept approach, the experimental flow rates were limited to reflect the capacities of the smaller unit (9 GPM) for direct comparison to the larger unit. Thus, the preliminary model and tool are largely limited to the experimental conditions. Yet, these results of this study demonstrate the utility of UV-C light in reducing the microbial risk of agricultural water, and future studies using different UV-C devices and higher flow rates will expand the use of the decision-making tool.