The objectives of this research are: <OL> <LI> Evaluate blanching as a commercial processing procedure for dehydrated New Mexico chile peppers; <LI> Blanching procedures developed will be evaluated for food quality, food safety and saleable yields of processed New Mexico chile peppers.
NON-TECHNICAL SUMMARY: Chile peppers grown in New Mexico are the main ingredient in many specialty foods ranging from pepper jelly to beef jerky, salsa and fromage blanc goat cheese. Chile peppers are used as red, green, fresh, dried and smoked. Then there are the varieties of chile peppers that range from sweet to highly pungent. Use of the pepper as an ingredient or a commodity affects the economy of the state of New Mexico, which in 2006 73,400 tons were harvested with an estimated value of 39.6 million. Furthermore, with Hispanic foods having an impact in mainstream America, world-wide consumer demand for New Mexico specialty food products continues to increase. How chile peppers are handled throughout the process from the farm to final consumer can affect the quality and safety of the final product.
APPROACH: During consultation with chile pepper producers and processors their harvesting procedures and handling before and during processing into a food product will be evaluated for food safety concerns. Application of a Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) type model will be used to analyze each process from the "farm to the table". Control points will be identified and monitoring methods developed. Additionally, Good Agriculture Practices (GAPs) will be applied at the farm or producer level. Current funding from other sources includes a collaborative grant to disseminate procedures to improve food safety at the farm level. These procedures are often used during consultation with integrated food operations where processors want to evaluate food safety issues as well as ways to improve efficient operations. Blanching has been identified as an effective prep-processing treatment to reduce pathogenic bacteria therefore this will be the initial focus of investigation. Initially blanching will be evaluated for short (5 min) medium (10 min) and long time (16 min) of steam application with organic acids followed by dehydration of red and green chile peppers. Organic acids to be evaluated are citric (0.21%) and ascorbic (3.4%) as additives to the steam. Post steam processing will also evaluate immersion or spray application of 2% calcium chloride to protect color and texture changes as a result of blanching and dehydration. Procedures will be developed for direct application to area commercial dehydrators. Time and temperatures will be within parameters that can be met by commercial processing. Laboratory equipment will be modified to closely mimic the commercial system. Microbial, chemical and color analysis will be used to measure the effectiveness of these blanching treatments. Microbial analysis will include quantification of E.coli coliforms using 3M Petrifilm. These methods will be used initially to determine the effectiveness of the model compared to the commercial process. A non pathogenic surrogate for E. coli and Salmonella will be used to verify procedures once the procedures have been finalized. Pathogens will not be actively cultured in the laboratory but can be identified using a rapid method such as ELISA at the Food Safety laboratory. Chemical analysis will include capsaicin activity via HPLC method, surface color measured with colorimeter and color intensity using ASTA methodology. Additionally water activity of dried product will be measured using a Decagon water activity meter.