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An Integrated Approach to Enhance the Microbial Safety of Fresh-Cut Fruits and Vegetables during Processing, Packaging, and Distribution


The overall goal of this multi-disciplinary, multi-institutional, multi-functional special emphasis project is to enhance the microbial safety and quality of ready-to-eat, fresh-cut produce via integrated research and outreach/training targeted at the processing, packaging, and retail distribution segments of the produce chain. The multi-disciplinary project team integrates expertise from Michigan State University, California Polytechnic State University, Rutgers University, Ohio State University, and the International Food Protection Training Institute (Battle Creek, MI). <P>Five project modules target: 1) processing - quantify and develop predictive models for pathogen transfer during slicing/dicing of fresh-cut produce, 2) packaging - develop and validate optimal packaging systems for safety of fresh-cut produce, 3) retail distribution - evaluate and model potential pathogen survival/growth in packages at retail, 4) risk modeling and economics - develop and validate a risk model for pathogen transfer and survival/growth in packaged fresh-cut produce through retail, and conduct a benefit-cost analysis for processing and packaging interventions, and 5) outreach/training - develop, implement and assess outreach/training programs on the safety of fresh-cut fruits and vegetables for processors, distributors, retailers, and regulators.<P> Critical data gaps to be filled from this work, as identified in the RFA, include: 1) identification of commercial slicing/dicing practices that increase risk for cross-contamination of fresh-cut produce, along with various mitigation strategies, 2) development of novel packaging strategies for minimizing pathogen growth/survival in the cold-chain, and 3) reduction of risk of foodborne illnesses from fresh-cut produce through a series of training activities aimed at processors, retailers, foodservice workers, and regulators. <P>Overall, this integrated project will serve to enhance the safety and quality of fresh-cut fruits and vegetables and reduce the number of produce-related outbreaks.

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Non-Technical Summary: <BR>This multi-disciplinary, multi-institutional, multi-functional proposal addresses five distinct modules focused on the safety and quality of fresh-cut produce, processing, packaging, distribution, risk/economics, and education/training that have been carefully integrated to ensure a successful and high impact outcome. All slicing/dicing of inoculated produce will be conducted at MSU (Module 1: Goals 1-3), with these products then immediately packaged at MSU (Module 2: Goals 4-7) and stored under retail conditions at MSU using time/temperature data provided by Cal Poly (Module 3: Goals 8-10). A risk assessment model encompassing pathogen transfer, survival, and growth will then be developed and validated with benefit-cost analyses conducted for the processing, packaging and distribution interventions (Module 4: Goals 11-13). Finally, IFPTI - a national leader in food safety training ( will participate in the development, implementation, and assessment of the impact of outreach/training programs for the fresh-cut industry (Module 5: Goal 14). The specific pathogens and products to be included initially across the various goals of the project were selected to represent those linked to previous outbreaks and/or those that represent a target category with an expected significant future public health risk (e.g., given growth in the sector). Nominally, three pathogens (4-strain cocktails of each, from fresh produce isolates as appropriate) will be included: E. coli O157:H7, Salmonella, and L. monocytogenes. Likewise, three fruits will be included: cantaloupe, watermelon, and strawberries. Lastly, three vegetables will be included: tomatoes, green onions, and celery. Given the resource constraints for each individual goal, not every experimental portion of the project will include all combinations of the above pathogens and products. For example, Goal 1 (slicing/dicing) will include individual pathogen-product combinations. However, the packaging goals will include specific mixtures (e.g., a three-fruit salad) in single packages to quantify the impact of mixed products on the gas environment in the package, and subsequently on the selected pathogen. The specific pathogen-product combinations for each individual goal will be adjusted based on input from the Stakeholder Advisory Board. <P> Approach: <BR> The five project modules and their corresponding methods address processing (Goals 1 - 3), packaging (Goals 4 - 7), distribution (Goals 8 - 10), risk modeling and economic analysis (Goals 11 - 13), and education/training (Goal 14) as follows: Processing - Quantify pathogen transfer and cross-contamination 1. Conduct lab- and pilot-scale slicing/dicing experiments to quantify the impact of process parameters on pathogen transfer. [Ryser-MSU] 2. Evaluate the impact of sanitizer protocols on pathogen reduction during conveyance of fresh-cut produce. [Ryser-MSU] 3. Formulate and test a generalized mathematical model for pathogen attachment/transfer between components of a produce handling/processing environment (i.e., product surfaces, process water, and equipment surfaces). [MSU-Marks] Packaging - Develop optimal packaging systems to enhance microbial safety and quality 4. Evaluate the impact of and interactions between in-package gas composition and prior interventions on the resulting safety and quality of fresh-cut produce [MSU-Almenar, Harte]. 5. Measure absorption of ClO2 gas by fresh-cut product and its impact on efficacy against pathogens. [MSU-Rubino, Almenar, Ryser] 6. Develop steady- and unsteady-state coupled models for product respiration, mass transport, product quality, and pathogen growth/survival in multiple packaging systems. [MSU-Beaudry] 7. Validate prototype optimal packaging systems containing selected sanitizers/gas compositions. [MSU-Almenar, Harte] Distribution - Evaluate and model potential for pathogen survival/growth during distribution 8. Collect in-store transient product temperature data for representative fruit and vegetable products at multiple retail outlets. [Cal Poly-Vorst] 9. Assess growth of pathogens, mesophilic aerobic bacteria, and yeasts/molds in packaged fresh-cut produce during retail storage/display using actual temperature from in-store experimental monitoring. [MSU-Ryser] 10. Utilize experimental growth data from mixed fresh-cut products, held at varying temperatures corresponding to actual transportation and retail data, to estimate growth parameters (and parameter uncertainty) for multiple candidate growth models [MSU-Jeong]. 11. Develop a risk model for prevalence and concentration of pathogens considering transfer, survival, and/or growth in fresh-cut products. [Rutgers - Schaffner] 12. Validate the risk model for pathogen transfer, survival, and/or growth in fresh-cut products via integrated experiments spanning processing, packaging, and storage/distribution. [MSU - Marks, Dolan; Rutgers - Schaffner] 13. Conduct a benefit-cost analysis for the processing and packaging interventions addressed in the prior goals, using the risk model and existing data. [OSU - Scharff] Education/Training - Reduce risk of foodborne illness via high quality training programs 14. Develop and implement outreach/training programs for processors, distributors, retailers, and regulators in food safety of fresh-cut fruits and vegetables and assess the impact of training resources and programs on the reaction, knowledge, and behavior of participants [IFPTI-Wojtala, Kaml, Fogerty; MSU - Dolan, Siddiq]

Ryser, Elliot
Michigan State University
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