Contaminated seeds have been implicated in the majority of foodborne illness cases associated with sprouts (bean sprouts, alfalfa). Despite intensive research no totally effective seed decontamination method has yet been developed. Indeed, it is acknowledged that the currently recommended 20,000 ppm calcium hypochlorite cannot guarantee inactivation of all pathogens present on seeds. We have developed a more effective method using a novel sanitizer (SDH). In initial laboratory based trials using mung beans inoculated with Salmonella, E. coli or Listeria monocytogenes, SDH treatment inactivated all pathogens with no detrimental loss in sprout quality. The current project aims to further evaluate SDH in decontaminating a diverse range of seeds inoculated with virulent strains of E. coli O157:H7 and Salmonella. The routes by which seed is contaminated in the field or during processing will also be investigated. Other aspects of the work will elucidate the mode of action of SDH and develop real-time PCR protocols for determining low levels of pathogens in sprouts/irrigation water.
Expected Impact of Project Outcomes on Food Safety in Ontario: The SDH treatment to be evaluated is reliable, requires no specialized equipment or training, uses concentrations in the order of 100 ppm, cost effective ($10 per ton of sprouts), contains an active ingredient approved for food use by the FDA and can be readily applied in the domestic or commercial environment. Rapid test methods exist to quantify the concentration of SDH and hence can be readily incorporated into a Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) plan.
<p>The nutritional benefit of sprouts is well established but due to the association with virulent pathogens many high risk groups (young, elderly) have been advised against consuming such products. Obviously by providing pathogen-free sprouts the health benefits derived from sprouted seeds can be realized. As the United States market is currently contracting due to the food safety issues ($50M loss in 1999) the prospect of increased exports from Ontario is a real possibility. <P> For more information, please visit the <a href="http://www.omafra.gov.on.ca/english/research/foodsafety/index.html" target="_blank">Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food & Rural Affairs (OMAFRA) Food Safety Research Program</a>.