Purpose This study aimed to investigate how enteric pathogens and their biofilm populations on fresh produce survive according to time that contamination has occurred on leaves and contamination route: seed irrigation water. Design/methodology/approach Cress was contaminated in two different ways: contamination of seeds and irrigation water with 8-log MPN/mL bacterial load, Salmonella Newport, Escherichia coli O157:H7, O104:H4 or O78:H2. While contaminated seeds were cultivated for seed contamination, contaminated irrigation was applied at the end of each week to separate groups of samples obtained from cultivated surface-sterile seeds to understand how long these pathogens could survive until harvest. Findings The results indicated these pathogens survived until harvest, and formed biofilms on cress leaves grown using both contaminated seeds and irrigation water. No significant difference was observed among populations of Salmonella and E. coli groups in terms of survival (similar to 4.5-6.0 log MPN/g) and biofilm formation (similar to 4.4-5.7 log MPN/g) for contamination by seed. Also, SEM images revealed biofilm-like structures, the proofs of the attachment of these pathogens on leaf surfaces. Originality/value From our knowledge this is the first study focusing on the survival and biofilm formation of one Salmonella serotype (Newport) and three E. coli serotypes (O157:H7, O104:H4, and O78:H2), representing enterohemorrhagic and enteroaggregative E. coli pathogenic subgroups, under the same irrigation and growth schemes. Furthermore, this study mimics the contamination of seeds and irrigation water with sewage or wastewater and may shed light on contamination of fresh produce grown using poor wastewater treatment.