U.S – In a bid to bolster food safety measures surrounding peaches, ongoing research funded by the Center for Produce Safety (CPS) is delving into the efficacy of sanitizers and wash techniques applied to these fruits.
Despite routine processes in packinghouses that utilize sanitizer-treated water, critical gaps in knowledge exist regarding the effectiveness of these techniques, the necessary contact times, and appropriate treatment durations.
The project, led by Dr. Meijun Zhu from Washington State University, was initiated in response to a 2020 foodborne illness outbreak linked to peaches contaminated by Salmonella.
The outbreak, potentially introduced to the fruit by nearby animal agriculture, highlighted the need for a comprehensive investigation into wash systems used for peaches.
Research on fruits with fuzz, such as peaches, presents unique challenges compared to smooth-skinned fruits.
Dr. Zhu and her team are focusing on identifying a sanitizer program specifically tailored for peaches, believing that if successful, it could serve as a benchmark for smooth-skinned stone fruit as well.
Peaches sourced weekly from commercial California packinghouses are sent to Dr. Zhu’s lab in Washington for testing.
The peaches are inoculated with a nonpathogenic strain, Enterococcus faecium NRRL B-2354, serving as a surrogate for harmful bacteria like Salmonella and Listeria monocytogenes.
Dr. Zhu explores the efficacy of the most common sanitizer, chlorine, along with various other food-grade antimicrobials. The study also delves into the impact of different sanitizer concentrations and contact times, ensuring a thorough assessment.
Preparing for real-world trials
Acknowledging the intricate dynamics of real-world packing facilities, the research team is gearing up for large-scale trials slated at California packinghouses in 2024.
These trials are designed to bridge the gap between controlled laboratory conditions and the pragmatic challenges faced during commercial peach processing.
The aim is to develop sanitization techniques that are not only scientifically robust but also seamlessly applicable in the bustling reality of the industry.
CPS is a collaborative partnership that leverages the combined expertise of industry, government and the scientific and academic communities to focus on providing research needed to continually enhance food safety.
This level of collaboration allows CPS to fill the knowledge gaps on produce food safety and address both research priorities and immediate industry needs.