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Collaboration to Help Thwart Food-borne Pathogens

By Tara Weaver-Missick
December 20, 1999

High-quality, fresh-cut melon and tomatoes that are free of microbial pathogens are the goal of Agricultural Research Service scientists and industry cooperators who have teamed up in a joint research project.

Scientists at the ARS Eastern Regional Research Center’s Plant Science and Technology Research Unit in Wyndmoor, Pa., have entered into a two-year Cooperative Research and Development Agreement with EPL Technologies, Inc., in Philadelphia.

Retailers have long desired a way to produce fresh-cut tomatoes and melons safely, but haven’t pursued this market due to product quality problems and food safety concerns caused by inadequate cold temperatures during distribution.

Melons and tomatoes have been associated with food-borne illnesses from Salmonella contamination in the past. Salmonella heads the list as one of the most common causes of food-borne illnesses, with about 40,000 salmonellosis cases reported yearly, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

ARS researchers have already developed improved methods for extending the shelf life of perishable fruits and vegetables. Under the agreement with EPL Technologies, they plan to develop novel methods for reducing or removing pathogenic bacteria from fresh-cut fruits.

These methods should be friendly alternatives to common washing agents, such as chlorine, which are used to rid fresh-cut foods of microbial pathogens. Previous ARS studies and others have shown limitations with conventional washing and sanitizing agents in reducing microbes on fruit surfaces.

This technology is needed in the fresh-cut market, which grows at a rate of 20 percent annually. Most of this growth, however, is in the fresh-cut vegetable market. This research should allow fresh-cut manufacturers to expand their markets and make healthy fresh-cut products available to a larger group. Successful introduction of these products will have a major impact on growers and shippers.

Scientific contact: Gerald M. Sapers, ARS Eastern Regional Research Center, Plant Science and Technology Research Unit, Wyndmoor, Pa., (phone) 215-233-6417, (fax) 215-233-6406,