University of California

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An integrated approach for enhancing the microbial safety of fresh-cut fruits and vegetables during processing, packaging, and retail display.

Elliot T. Ryser (Michigan State University), Haiqiang Wang (Michigan State University (Andrew Scollon) (Michigan State University), Chelsea Kaminski (Michigan State University), Rocky Patil, (Michigan State University), Bradley P. Marks (Michigan State University), Sanghyup Jeong (Michigan State University), Eva Almenar (Michigan State University) and Naalie Page (Michigan State University)

Public health concerns surrounding the safety of fresh-cut fruits and vegetables have escalated over the last five years in response to a series of nationwide foodborne outbreaks traced to leafy greens, tomatoes, celery, onions, and cantaloupe. The overall goal of this 4-year multi-disciplinary, multi-institutional, $1.8 million USDA National Integrated Food Safety grant is to enhance the microbial safety and quality of ready-to-eat, fresh-cut fruits and vegetables via integrated research and outreach/training targeted at processing, packaging, distribution, risk modeling/economics and education/training. Once products such as tomatoes, onions, celery and cantaloupe become contaminated in the field or during harvest, washing in various sanitizer solutions typically removes only 90 to 99% of the bacterial population, including pathogens, with the efficacy of chlorine-based sanitizers negatively impacted by the organic load of the wash water. Any remaining bacterial contaminants can be spread to subsequent product during mechanical shredding, dicing, slicing, conveying and fluming as well as shaker table and centrifugual dewatering. Various packaging strategies employing different gaseous atmospheres specific to the type of produce in question have been successfully used to optimize both end-product quality and safety. However, bacterial pathogens such as Salmonella, Escherichia coli O157:H7 and Listeria monocytogenes can still remain viable in fresh-cut and in some cases grow, particularly if the product is temperature abused during shipment, retail storage, retail display and subsequent home storage. Careful attention to sanitizer washing of fresh produce, minimizing cross-contamination during slicing/dicing and maintaining the cold chain throughout distribution is essential for maximizing the safety of fresh produce.

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