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An Interdisciplinary Approach to Reducing Patulin in Food Through Novel Sensor Developement, Fungal Indentification and New Processing Methods


The primary objective of this multidisciplinary project is to train 3 highly qualified Food Scientists (2 PhD and 1 MS) with a concentration in Food Safety and pipeline them into the workforce to reduce current shortages and address emergent food safety challenges in the United States. Scientific objectives include analysis of commercial cider samples from across Maine for patulin content, characterization and mapping of local fungal contamination as indicated by patulin contaminated samples, development of a novel chemical sensor for detection of patulin in fruit beverages, evaluation of the effects of new processing methods on microbial load and mycotoxin content of apple cider and improving food safety in Maine through HACCP planning and implementation for the apple industry and offering Cooperative Extension outreach activities designed to educate consumers, growers, processors and policy makers.

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NON-TECHNICAL SUMMARY: Patulin is a naturally occurring mycotoxin found in apple cider. Research has linked negative health effects to patulin consumption causing the FDA to establish a daily intake limit. Preliminary studies have detected patulin in Maine apple cider which is now available on a year-round basis. A study is needed to determine the extent of fungal infection and measure patulin levels in Maine cider. This project will document patulin contamination in Maine apple cider, identify local pockets of infection and use the findings to improve food safety with HACCP plan design and implementation for growers and processors and through development of processing methods that reduce patulin. A complementary Cooperative Extension campaign will educate the public about the dangers of patulin consumption. <P>APPROACH: This project has been designed to provide a unique and relevant graduate education for the students selected to participate in the program. The five facets of the project include: Coursework for building of core competencies through an accredited Food Science graduate program; Thesis or Doctoral Dissertation Project developed from an interdisciplinary experimental design focused on an emerging regional food safety issue; Laboratory Training which allows for further specialization in the area of Food Safety; Teaching Experience which allows graduate candidates to grow personally and develop as a role model and Professional Networking which generates collaborative and employment opportunities and further develops student communication skills and confidence. While all three of these students will focus on Food Safety, one PhD candidate will gain broad analytical chemistry experience and develop cutting-edge instrumentation expertise that has numerous industrial applications. A second PhD student will focus on microbiology, working to characterize local and statewide fungal populations, and identify the source of cider contamination. This student will also investigate the use of novel or newly modified processing technologies on fungal eopulations and patulin content. The partnering of food micro and processing technology expertise will ensure immediate employment for this candidate after graduation. The third student, a Masters candidate will integrate the groups research findings into an educational campaign intended to help growers and cider producers with HACCP planning, inform the public about the risks of patulin consumption and affect agricultural policy in Maine by presenting research findings to state administrators and lawmakers. These experiences serve to develop important and varied skills that in each case will qualify these students to fill unique needs in the Food Science sector after graduation.

<P>PROGRESS: 2006/11 TO 2007/11<BR>
This project proposes to train two doctoral candidates and one master student and subsequently pipeline them into the workforce to fulfill the national need for food safety expertise. While the definitive goal of this proposal is to produce three exceptional graduates who will impact the field of food science, the multidisciplinary research project designed for these students will also yield significant results that meet a USDA/CSREES objective by reducing the incidence of foodborne contaminants through science based knowledge and education. Upon receiving the notification the award in November, 2006, we have initiated recruitment for the three graduate students. The first PhD. Student, Kelly Perkins, focuses on analytical chemistry, training as an instrumentation specialist in the food chemical safety laboratory, was selected in January, 2007. She has started one of our projects entitled Chemical Sensor Development for the Detection of Patulin in Fruit Beverages. Sensor development was begun using the insecticide phosmet as a model analyte for patulin. We chose phosmet because 1) it has a key functional group in common with patulin that responds well to our detector and 2) analytical grade patulin is prohibitively expensive and also toxic to work with in large amounts. Currently, we have developed films that allow us to detect phosmet as low as two parts per million in solution and are working towards increasing sensitivity and reproducibility before transferring our system to patulin detection. The M.S. student of the fellowship, Lucius (Luke) Caldwell, was recruited into our program in August, 2007. Luke was selected based on his good communication skills, outstanding GRE scores, and his interest in the outreach component working with us and Maine apple growers. We are currently working on the final recruitment and selection for second Ph.D. student of the fellowship. <BR>PRODUCTS: Not at this time. <BR>OUTCOMES: Intended outcomes of one of the projects are to provide Maine apple growers with processing (acetic acid versus vinegar) and biological controls (various commercial types) to help reduce the growth of Pencillium and Botrytis spp. on apples during storage to later reduce patulin levels in cider. Other outcomes will be to assess the effectiveness of using various biological and processing controls by conducting inoculation studies to determine the overall log reduction of these treatments on Pencillium and Botrytis spp. <BR>DISSEMINATION ACTIVITIES: Students intend to present his findings at the Maine Agricultural Trades show and/or a Pomological Society Meeting in 2009. Students also are interested in working with apple growers to form a template HACCP plan specifically to identify ways to reduce patulin production. Students also will present a poster of his findings to the Institute Food Technologists annual meeting in 2009. <BR>FUTURE INITIATIVES: It is too early at this point to determine future initiatives.
IMPACT: 2006/11 TO 2007/11 <BR>
The overall impact of our research is to ensure the food safety of Maine apple cider. Through the project, we will produce three exceptional graduates who will impact the field of food science, the multidisciplinary research project designed for these students will also yield significant results that meet a USDA/CSREES objective by reducing the incidence of foodborne contaminants through science based knowledge and education. Other impacts of this project will be to help Maine apple farmers to test and implement new techniques to help reduce patulin in cider by reducing patulin-producing microorganisms post-harvest and prior to storage. We are involving the farmers early in the development of our research and expect to find several effective, safe and inexpensive methods that can be immediately utilized even for small apple growers. There may be potential that these techniques will also benefit all apple growers nationally and worldwide.

Wu, Vivian
University of Maine
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