Can You Get Sick From Aquaponics?

Aquaponics can transmit certain types of pathogens to humans, leading to sickness or diseases. This situation is possible when aquaponics growers become negligent in observing fundamental cleanliness steps in food handling. This post can guide you in exploring how you can get sick from aquaponics and the practical steps to avoid it.

What are the health risks associated with aquaponics?

Like with other food production methods, aquaponics can pose certain health risks to its growers or practitioners. Fish and plant diseases are commonly caused by specific pathogens such as bacteria and viruses. These may be transferred to the workers inside an aquaponics greenhouse or outdoor setups.

People who come into touch with the water used in an aquaponic system or eat food with zoonotic pathogens on it are at risk of contracting these harmful microorganisms. We can also add the possibility of E. coli contamination in your fish tanks that may find its way to humans.

But the health risks are not only confined to your aquatic animals, for even the plants you cultivate may give you certain diseases. Note that some plants have sap or hairs that can cause skin blistering, burns, rashes, or breathing issues.

On the other hand, bioaerosols are airborne microorganisms naturally present in decomposing material and include spores, bacteria, and fungi (e.g., Aspergillus fumigatus). When churning compost or adding worms to a system, gardeners are likely to breathe these in. People with asthma or bronchitis and those who are allergic to pollen are the most vulnerable.

There is also the possibility of catching Leptospirosis, a disease transmitted to humans by rodents through contaminated water or damp plants. Rats also spread salmonella.

Another danger associated with aquaponics is the tetanus bacterium. This pathogen can enter the human body through cuts or wounds and infect it. Gardeners are more likely to become sick than non-gardeners because they frequently handle prickly plants, dirt, or manure.

Can I get E. Coli from my aquaponics fish?

Escherichia coli, or E. coli, is a bacterial strain. This bacterium is a crucial element of your digestive tract and is usually not a problem. In reality, the same bacteria can be found in many warm-blooded animals and serves the same goal as it does in humans: to promote proper digestion.

However, certain strains of these bacteria are not as beneficial, and these are the ones that might cause serious illness. Shiga-toxin-producing E.coli, as the name implies, produces a toxin called Shiga.

A 2020 Purdue University study discovered Shiga toxin-producing E. coli in hydroponic and aquaponic growing systems. In recent years, we have witnessed particular outbreaks of E. coli related diseases, and some of these tend to happen in leafy greens and other vegetables.

The fact that fish are cold-blooded means their digestive systems are not the same as those of warm-blooded animals. In brief, a fish's gut does not contain E.coli germs, so you cannot catch E.coli from them directly.

However, the fact that fish are cold-flooded does not rule out the possibility of E.coli contamination. Warm-blooded animals carry the pathogen. If the solid wastes from these warm-blooded animals access your aquaponics system, the fish can absorb the harmful E. coli through their skin, causing them to grow in their stomachs.

Furthermore, it is even possible that the toxic E. coli may reach your plant growth. The bacteria, however, cannot enter the plants' bodies. But these bacteria remain in the root systems. This implies that as you hold the roots of your plants with bare hands, you transmit the bacteria onto your skin.

How to check for E. Coli in an aquaponics system?

Testing your aquaponics system for E.coli is a simple procedure. You will need to take a water sample from your fish tank. You can also take water from the raft area of your system if you have adopted the deep water culture method.

Place the water into an E.coli tester which you can get online. Such a device will instantly tell you whether or not your water is polluted. You can also get test kits to check for other infections, such as salmonella, as a point of reference.

How to minimize the health risks associated with aquaponics?

You can drastically reduce this risk by following easy, fundamental cleanliness steps. Here are some key areas you should consider:

Human sanitation

Wash your hands with liquid soap and water before harvesting your plant crops.

Using potable water, soak them for at least 20 seconds and dry them with single-use paper towels.

Make it a habit to wash your hands after using the restroom, eating, smoking, stroking animals, shaking hands with someone, handling fish, and putting your hands into the system's water.

Management of warm-blooded excrements

Make every effort to keep away warm-blooded animals (birds, dogs, cats, rodents, sheep, goats, ducks, and cattle) aquaponics garden since they may carry infections that are unsafe to people. Animals should have less access to your production tanks.

Also, remove any plants that have been contaminated by feces, such as those left by birds. Remove all tainted produce and dispose of it where it will not attract new pests after all harvested product has been adequately removed.

Safe harvesting procedures

The following are the fundamentals of good on-farm harvest safety practices:

  1. Putting up a clean restroom some five-minute walk away from the aquaponics garden
  2. Providing a sink with running water, single-use towels, pump hand soap, and a covered trash can
  3. A first-aid package
  4. Prohibiting smoking, chewing, and eating in the production or packing areas
  5. Sterilizing all harvest instruments and bins before each harvest and keeping all harvest containers off the soil surface
  6. Periodic testing of fish and plants for pathogenic microorganisms
  7. Removing bird or animal nests from production and packing facilities, as well as excluding cattle and pets
  8. Placing a cover on all harvesting materials to avoid contamination by bug or rodent droppings

Water sources for the aquaponics systems

Aquaponic production water should only be obtained from potable sources such as rainwater or city water.

Because zoonotic pathogens introduced by domesticated or wild animals can be found in significant quantities in streams, reservoirs, and roof-top rainwater catchment systems, it is best not to use water from these sources in your food production system.


Although aquaponics is beneficial to us in terms of food production, it can still transmit diseases to its practitioners. Based on this fact, any aquaponics system should be checked and tested regularly. Such a course of action guarantees that you are well-aware of any potential health problems and are prepared to deal with them.

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