The major goals of this project are to improve produce safety by reducing pathogen cross-contamination and proliferation through development and validation of new technologies, and to develop the scientific basis to support science- and risk-based food safety performance standards and practices.
Taking a holistic and systematic approach, we will partner with industry to address the following five objectives:
- Develop and validate food safety preventive controls for water use in fresh-cut processing and whole-produce packinghouse operation.
- Evaluate an innovative immersion-free fresh-cut produce washing technology to improve food safety and reduce potential risks.
- Advance understanding of fresh-cut washing processes, and develop novel technologies to improve efficacy.
- Evaluate effects on fresh-cut produce quality and safety, and energy use for open display and closed-door display case configurations.
- Evaluate economic, social, and environmental impacts of pathogen control technologies and practices.;
- Disseminate scientific information to stakeholders and facilitate adoption (integrated research-extension approach).
Foodborne illness outbreaks associated with contaminated produce negatively impact public health, consumer confidence, the produce industry's economic well-being, and progress toward national nutritional goals. Current capability to eliminate pathogens during processing, without compromising quality, is very limited. Thus, industry critically needs technologies to prevent pathogen proliferation and cross-contamination/spread, while retaining the organoleptic and nutritional qualities of fresh produce.
The Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) directed the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to require producers and processors to evaluate food safety hazards and to identify, implement, and monitor preventive controls to significantly minimize or prevent occurrence of such hazards. While industry has made significant progress to prepare for FSMA implementation, critical data gaps remain that significantly hinder identification, validation, and monitoring of preventive controls during fresh and fresh-cut produce handling. In addition, industry needs outreach and extension support to translate scientific information into actionable steps so that science-based performance standards and practices can be updated for industry-wide implementation.
We received strong industry support during the development of this project, with critical in-kind commitments for the planned research studies, including access to a pilot plant, commercial processing facilities, and retail stores. Our continuous industrial interaction will accelerate technology transfer and adoption.
Expected significant reductions in pathogen contamination will reduce food-borne illness outbreaks, restore and maintain consumer confidence in tomatoes and fresh-cut leafy greens, promote sustained industry growth, and, in the long term, improve public health by increasing consumption of fresh produce.
This project will develop scientific data and technology to enhance food safety of fresh and fresh-cut produce, which will promote sustained industry growth.
- Significant economic benefits derive from reducing outbreak-associated losses, e.g., lower sales, damaged reputations, and litigation.
- Improved produce safety will have the social benefit of reducing illness and death associated with contaminated produce. This will lead to enhanced consumer confidence and enhanced acceptance of fresh produce as part of a healthy diet, thereby fostering the social goal of increased fruit and vegetable consumption.
- Implementation of the solutions to be developed and validated in the proposed work offers the potential to significantly reduce chemical usage during post-harvest handling and reduce energy consumption at retail, bringing significant environmental benefits.
Funding for this project was provided by the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, U.S. Department of Agriculture, under agreement number 2016-51181-25403.
I invite you to explore this project website, read our publications and presentations, and watch our outreach videos from this grant that runs from 10/01/2016 to 08/31/2021.
Project Director: Dr. Yaguang (Sunny) Luo
Food Quality Laboratory (FQL) &
Environmental Microbial and Food Safety Laboratory (EMFSL)
USDA-Agricultural Research Service, Beltsville, MD 20705
Email: Yaguang.Luo@ars.usda.gov; Tel: 301-504-6186