This multidisciplinary, collaborative effort among scientists from several institutions and states includes research, education, and outreach components aimed at reducing the microbial risks associated with the production of fresh and fresh-cut fruits and vegetables at the farm and subsequent handling during processing, food service, and at the consumer level. The proposed activities will complement and extend the FDA/USDA guidance document "Guide to Minimize Microbial Food Safety Hazards for Fresh Fruits and Vegetables". These goals will be accomplished through seven objectives: <OL> <LI> Redefine current GAPs based on scientific data to control and minimize microbial food safety hazards in fresh and fresh-cut fruits and vegetables on farms and in packinghouses. These studies will focus on determining risk and risk reduction practices associated with production practices including irrigation water, soil, wildlife, manure (raw and composted) and worker health and hygiene. <LI> Understanding and modeling transfer coefficients between microbial food safety hazards and fresh and fresh-cut fruits and vegetables in production and processing environments. Selected laboratory and greenhouse-based studies will focus on generating the necessary information on pathogen transfer coefficients from a variety of sources (including water, soil, and cutting blades) as affected by environmental factors and the fate of transferred pathogens through the production and processing environment of the selected fruit or vegetable. <LI> Define, develop, and communicate microbial food safety hazards that can result in the contamination of fresh and fresh-cut produce in restaurants and at retail. <LI> Evaluate consumer produce handling practices to define methods of microbial risk reduction. Efforts will focus on surveys of current consumer handling practices and validate the effectiveness of different interventions that can be used at home. Consumer willingness to adopt interventions will also be evaluated. <LI> Food systems analysis and economics of controlling microbial food safety hazards in fresh and fresh-cut fruits and vegetables. This proposal will evaluate the economics of food safety implementation to further define costs and assist operations with understanding how to most effectively and efficiently implement food safety practices. <LI> Extension Education. Once scientific data is generated from the research outlined in objectives 1-5, appropriate extension materials will be developed targeting audiences on the farm, in processing plants, at retail, and in the home. Extension activities will include, but not be limited to Train-the-trainer workshops, development of written and video materials, and direct extension activities such as presentations at grower meetings, and national trade shows <LI> Education of undergraduate and graduate students. This project will allow for the education of students so that they understand the microbial risks that occur from farm to table and how best to evaluate and reduce these risks. Developing expertise in microbial food safety is critical to the production and processing of safe fresh produce.
NON-TECHNICAL SUMMARY: The increased number of produce related foodborne illness outbreaks in the United States has raised consumer awareness and concerns with the safety of fresh produce. The contamination of fruits and vegetables with foodborne pathogens can occur throughout the food chain and that a single intervention strategy (or relying on intervention at a single point in the chain) cannot be used to eliminate or control microbial hazards in fresh fruits and vegetables. Rather, effective preventative measures require a comprehensive "farm to fork" approach that relies on science based GAPs as well as additional control strategies throughout processing and distribution. This proposal represents a multidisciplinary, collaborative effort among scientists from several institutions and states, which includes applied research, outreach and education components aimed at reducing the risk of contamination of fresh and fresh cut fruits and vegetables with foodborne pathogens by intervening at the growing, harvesting, packinghouse, transportation, retail and consumer levels. <P>
APPROACH: The objectives outlined above will be accomplished by the following core-units. 1. Animal and farm management practices for production of fruits and vegetables. This unit will include expertise in pathogen transmission from, humans, animals and environmental sources such as water, manure, and farming practices. 2. Pathogen risks and controls fresh and cut produce at the processing, distribution, retail, foodservice and consumer level. This unit includes expertise in sanitation and handling practices as well as produce associated pathogen lethality and control(s) with chemical based treatments, active packaging systems, and high pressure treatment. 3. Genomics and molecular subtyping. This unit includes expertise in strain variation and molecular subtyping as related to transmission, survival, and virulence. 4. Mathematical modeling and economics. This unit includes expertise in survival and growth modeling as well as in epidemiological transmission modeling. 5. Outreach and education. This core unit includes expertise in outreach related to (i) fruit and vegetable growers and farmworkers (ii) processing and food service industries (iii) health care providers, consumers, and extension personnel.