Food safety, wildlife need not be mutually exclusiveEditor's Note: This is the Field Notes column, written by editor Vicky Boyd and published in the August 2012 issue of Citrus + Vegetable Magazine.

Growers walk a fine line between being good stewards of the land and wildlife and producing a healthful crop following the latest in food safety practices.

The balancing act has become even more complicated as a handful of animals have been implicated in foodborne illness outbreaks.

Ongoing research has shown that an occasional turtle, frog, toad, snake or lizard can be infected with Salmonella. But is that garter snake that slithers through the edge of your leafy greens field a real risk, endangering the safety of your crop?

At the same time, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission wants to enlist agriculture’s help shore up declining wildlife species by providing habitat.

Nick Wiley, commission executive director, outlined at the recent Citrus Industry Annual Conference in Bonita Springs how the state plans to revamp its imperiled wildlife listing process.

As part of that effort, the state would work with the University of Florida and stakeholders to develop wildlife BMPs―or best management practices―much as it did for water.

“The BMPs would document all of the things you’re doing to protect a species,” he says.

The group also would look at the state water BMPs to determine which ones also would apply to wildlife so there’s no duplication.

As with the water BMPs, the wildlife BMPs would be voluntary and non-regulatory, Wiley says.

At the same time, Michele Jay-Russell, program manager at the Western Center for Food Safety, University of California, Davis, is conducting research to determine whether resident reptiles and amphibians are potential reservoirs for foodborne pathogens.

Her project involves farms along California’s Central Coast, and she is collaborating with University of Georgia colleagues on a similar one in the Suwannee River watershed of south Georgia.

Jay-Russell presented her initial findings at the Center for Produce Safety’s recent annual research symposium in Davis, Calif.

Using live traps and catch-and-release methods, cooperators at the University of Georgia sampled reptiles and amphibians on five mixed-produce operations.

Of the 125 turtles collected, for example, 18 percent tested positive for Salmonella. In addition, 31 of the 98 reptiles sampled were positive for Salmonella.

“Garter snakes were pretty consistently positive for Salmonella,” she says.

Part of the project also involves sampling water bodies where the reptiles and amphibians were collected. Are the animals picking up the pathogen from the water?

Ultimately, she says she hopes to develop practical grower recommendations that will enhance both food safety and the environment.