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Reducing Fresh Produce Microbiological Safety Risk Through Innovative Home Washing Technologies


The goal of this project is to evaluate the efficacy of several promising washing technologies for home use to enhance microbiological produce safety and to conduct consumer evaluations on the potential adoption of these technologies. <P> Specific objectives are: <OL> <LI> Determine the stability and pathogen reduction potential of various non-thermal technologies (EO water, ozonated water, FIT, bleach, tap water) as affected by incoming water quality (pH and degree of hardness) <LI> Determine the efficacy of various non-thermal technologies (EO water, ozonated water, FIT, bleach, tap and salt water) under various in-home use conditions to ensure the safety and quality of lettuce, spinach, tomatoes, cantaloupes, broccoli, and green onions<LI> Evaluate the consumer acceptance and feasibility of adoption of various non-thermal technologies (EO water, ozonated water, FIT, bleach, tap and salt water) during home food preparation in homes<LI>Develop education and extension programs to disseminate the research findings. </OL> The successful completion of this project will generate the following outcomes: <OL><LI> The stability and performance of various non-thermal technologies (EO water, ozonated water, FIT, bleach, tap water) with different incoming water quality (pH and degree of hardness) will be determined<LI> The efficacy of these non-thermal technologies under various in home use conditions to improve the safety and quality of lettuce, spinach, tomatoes, cantaloupes, broccoli, and green onions will be determined<LI>Consumer acceptance and feasibility of adoption of the effective non-thermal technologies during home food preparation in homes will be identified<LI> Education and extension programs to disseminate the research findings to extension agents and consumers will be developed.

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NON-TECHNICAL SUMMARY: Recent outbreaks of foodborne illnesses have been linked to the consumption of contaminated fresh produce. Consumers are asking if there is anything they can do at home to ensure the safety of fresh produce. Simply washing produce before consumption is one critical process consumers can use to eliminate or minimize the risk of foodborne pathogen contamination. However, many consumers are unaware of some new simple sanitary technologies that can be easily adopted to help ensure produce safety at home. Studies have shown that both electrolyzed (EO) water and ozonated water can kill or remove foodborne pathogens from produce during washing. Currently, small home scale and low cost machines to generate EO and ozonated water are commercially available and could be purchased by consumers to use at home. However, properties and effectiveness of these washing solutions generated from these home scale devices have not been tested. Therefore, the first goal of this project is to evaluate the efficacy of various washing solutions (EO and ozonated water, FIT, bleach, and tap water) produced under various home use conditions for their efficacy in killing foodborne pathogens on lettuce, spinach, tomatoes, cantaloupes, broccoli, and green onions. Consumers will be invited to evaluate these washing technologies to assess their opinion on acceptance and adoption of these technologies. Educational materials for consumers and training materials for extension and 4-H agents to help consumers increase their awareness of the importance of sanitary practices at home to improving fresh produce safety will be developed.

APPROACH: Soft water, slightly hard, moderately hard, and hard water at pH values of 6, 7 and 8 will be used to generate EO water and ozonated water, as well as to dilute FIT and bleach. A five-strain mixture of each of three different types of food borne pathogens (Escherichia coli O157:H7, Listeria monocytogenes, and Salmonella) will be used in the study. A volume of 9 ml of treatment solution or sterile deionized water will be combined with 1 ml of inoculum for various length of time (from 15 sec to 2 min) to determine the efficacy of the treatment. Lettuce, spinach, and green onion will be inoculated by placing 15 microliters of each strain cocktail using a micropipettor. Tomatoes and cantaloupes will be inoculated by applying 100 microliters of the bacterial cocktail suspension on ten different spots. Broccoli will be inoculated by submerging three florets per treatment into bacterial cultures. The inoculated product will be allowed to air dry in a laminar flow hood at 20C for 1 hour. The ratio of treatment solution volume to the surface area of treated product will be either 5 to 1 or 10 to 1 for the soaking treatment. For the rinse treatment, samples will be subjected to a continuous running treatment solution for various treatment times up to 1 min. Additional rubbing treatment during running water treatment will be applied to tomatoes and cantaloupes. After treatments, the number of viable cells on produce will be recovered. Quality on non-inoculated products will be evaluated within 1 hour of treatment, as it is assumed that consumers will consume the product soon after washing. Quality attributes to be determined include color and texture. Consumers in Georgia and California will be given a demonstration of how to use the washing solution or device as identified from the project for meal preparation. They will then be videotaped while washing a tomato, cantaloupe, broccoli, and cutting board using the washing solution produced from equipment under study. Following the food preparation, the consumers will be interviewed as to the relative ease of using the equipment, the advantage and disadvantages of the new equipment (EO and ozonated water generators), those factors that would lead them to purchase the systems, and their personal likelihood to buy the system. A total of 100 consumers will be recruited. A curriculum package, including a professionally prepared video presentation, handouts, training materials and workbook, all on a DVD, will be provided to county agents and/or program assistants to use in teaching consumers safe preparation and storage procedures. Series of self-paced, interactive modules accessible online to demonstrate safe produce handling, storage and preparation practices in the home kitchen will be developed. Five regional programs in the Southeast and five in California will be held to train county agricultural and Family and Consumer Science (FACS) agents, public health officials, and interested industry personnel. Findings will be shared with through the eXtension website and at professional industry and association meetings.

Frank, Joseph; Hurst, William; Hung, Yen-Con
University of Georgia
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