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Minimizing Pathogen Transference during Lettuce Harvesting by Optimizing the Design of the Harvesting Device and Operation Practices

Investigators
Millner, Patricia; Luo, Yaguang
Institutions
USDA - Agricultural Research Service
Start date
2009
End date
2010
Objective
This project addresses CPS priority research area on 'Transference of human pathogens to leafy greens during harvest,' and plans to provide scientific information and practical approaches to mitigate the potential risk of Escherichia coli O157:H7 transference during lettuce core-in-field (CIF) stage.

Specifically, we will 1) determine the required pathogen contamination levels, and harvesting practices that facilitate pathogen transference to lettuce via contaminated coring knives, 2) develop approaches to reduce the risk of pathogen transference by improving coring knife design and sanitation, 3) identify improved harvesting practices as well as technical innovations to effectively eliminate soil contact as a source of coring knife contamination; and 4) identify post-harvest handling practices that can be implemented in the field to mitigate food safety risks.

Advanced molecular and microbiological techniques will be applied to quantify pathogen concentrations spanning a range of realistic contaminant loads and field conditions; creative engineering approaches will be utilized to optimize coring knife design and develop enhanced sanitation practices, and to develop a hands-free automated coring device that effectively eliminates the contamination source of coring knives via soil contact.

The following CPS RFP questions will be addressed: 'What level of pathogen must be present to facilitate transfer by trimming and coring?, What in-field sanitation practices could be implemented to mitigate coring knife pathogen transference?, What postharvest treatments could be implemented in?field to reduce or mitigate this risk'.

The near term outcome will result in scientific information needed for risk assessment of the pathogen transference potentials during lettuce field coring process for a realistically low to increased contaminant range, as well as the development of several improved practices and new technologies to reduce the risk. This information is crucial for the industry to develop science-based guidance and practical interventions for establishing food safety policies, and managing potential risks.

Development of several prototypes of a coring knife with improved food safety features, and an evaluation of sanitation procedures for lettuce coring devices will provide industry with tools and procedures to directly improve the CIF process safety.

More information

View the Final Project Report at the Center for Produce Safety website.

Funding Source
Center for Produce Safety
Project number
2009-48
Categories
Parasites
Natural Toxins
Viruses and Prions
Bacterial Pathogens
Chemical Contaminants
Risk Assessment, Management, and Communication
Policy and Planning
Escherichia coli