University of California-Davis Safeguarding Salad: Reducing Cross-Contamination in Fresh Produce Processing

Dr. Nitin and his team are discovering multiple techniques to minimize cross-contamination, which is a leading cause of foodborne outbreaks in fresh produce. They study how to prevent produce from being contaminated by contact with water, equipment surfaces, and people during the washing, conveying, and handling processes. The team focuses on: 1) creating sustainable antimicrobial solutions; 2) developing a “gold standard” for washing procedures; and 3) standardizing process control steps.

One approach is the creation of specially designed antimicrobial plastic films used to prevent bacterial contamination of fresh produce from food contact surfaces such as totes, bins, and conveyor belts. These antimicrobial films inactivate bacteria upon contact and prevent formation of biofilms. The films are reusable and can be activated using a simple household bleach solution. Another approach is the creation of a chemical free sanitation solution for maintaining fresh produce. This solution generates plasma-activated water or mist by treating the water or mist through electric discharges. In addition, the team is discovering how to sanitize fresh produce by combining food grade compounds with mild heat or light to deactivate bacteria in wash water and fresh produce.

Our team’s mission is to help people by protecting our food supply. We translate solutions from the labs to the next level to secure safe, fresh produce and a sustainable food system.

– Dr. Nitin Nitin

The team is also establishing a “gold standard” for sanitizing and washing fresh produce to reduce cross-contamination. Several different washing methods are currently used. To advance best practices, they study the mechanics of washing and water-flow rates, and how this affects washing efficiency.

Finally, the team is improving the process steps in fresh produce production systems to make the standards more uniform by developing simple yet effective sensing approaches to validate the process conditions.

This multi-prong, innovative approach is attacking cross-contamination from many angles to protect our produce.

Retaking The Field Volume 3 “Retaking the Field: Empowering Agricultural Sciences for Health” is a collaborative report from eleven universities and the SoAR Foundation. The report — the third in SoAR’s series — explores the success of research projects funded by the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI), the flagship competitive grants program of the USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA). It is part of SoAR’s broader education and advocacy initiative to encourage additional federal support for food and agricultural research. View The Issue
Retaking the Field Volume 3: The Case for a Surge in Agricultural Research Click to download report

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