North Carolina researchers are studying ways salmonella attacks tomatoes.

N.C. scientists researching salmonella on tomatoesBy learning how salmonella moves into tomato fields, a group of researchers at North Carolina State University’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences believes it could help tomato growers in other regions prevent infection, according to a news release.

In August, the group started a three-year study involving the Food and Drug Administration to better understand the relationship between salmonella, potential bacteria storage places and commercial tomato production.

Though North Carolina has never experienced a salmonella outbreak associated with commercial tomato production, the study focuses on North Carolina tomatoes and plans to examine similarities between that state’s production and Virginia’s, a state that has seen outbreaks, according to the release.

“The purpose of the study is to locate environmental reservoirs of Salmonella,” Chris Gunter, assistant professor of horticultural science, said in the release. “These bacteria can exist in the environment. We want to know where. Without knowing where those reservoirs may be, we have no way to manage salmonella.”

Scientists want to learn how surface water transports salmonella on tomatoes because the water is prone to fecal contamination and identified as a potential salmonella contamination risk, according to the release.

As a cooperative extension associate and the state’s Good Agricultural Practices coordinator, one of the researchers regularly collects tomato samples as well as tomato plant leaves and blossoms, soil and water samples as well as animal fecal matter, according to the release.

While researchers are studying how the pathogen affects tomatoes, they’re also looking at other crop production practices and said the study could help growers focus on practical actions that could better reduce contamination, they said in the release.