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ARS Home » Northeast Area » Wyndmoor, Pennsylvania » Eastern Regional Research Center » Food Safety and Intervention Technologies Research » Research » Research Project #428845

Research Project: Enhancing the Safety and Quality of Fresh Produce and Low-Moisture Foods by Waterless Non-Thermal Technologies

Location: Food Safety and Intervention Technologies Research

Project Number: 8072-41420-020-04-R
Project Type: Reimbursable Cooperative Agreement

Start Date: Apr 15, 2015
End Date: Apr 14, 2020

The research objectives of the project are to: 1) Determine the efficacy of cold plasma, monochromatic blue light, pulsed light, gaseous chlorine dioxide, and ozone against foodborne pathogens including bacteria, viruses, and parasites in produce and LMF (considering already-published studies, so as not to duplicate previous work). 2) Elucidate the mechanisms of pathogen inactivation by waterless, non-thermal processing technologies, and determine the interactions among the treatment, environmental conditions, and product characteristics. 3) Develop new equipment and processing protocols or incorporate the technologies and knowhow into food processing and distribution. The education objectives of the project are to: 1) Develop a “Foodborne Contamination-Impact on Food Safety” course and an “Emerging Non-thermal Technologies” course. 2) Train students in emerging non-thermal technologies, parasitology, microbiology, virology, and food safety. The outreach objectives of the project are to: 1) Provide knowledge about the development of new non-thermal processing technologies and educate processors about sustainability, energy savings, and water use efficiency. 2) Create a multidisciplinary conversation, including with experts in food science and technology, food engineering, microbiology, chemistry, food and nutrition, food safety and quality evaluation, program performance evaluation, economics, and behavioral and social sciences. 3) Involve manufacturing industry partners in equipment design, automation/control, and assessment of adaptability/suitability for commercial success.

This research will determine the effects of processing parameters (e.g., concentration, intensity, and time) of light and gaseous treatments, environmental conditions (e.g., temperature and humidity), and product characteristics (e.g., tissue makeup, surface structure, and roughness) on the inactivation and survival of foodborne bacterial, viral, and parasitic pathogens, such as Shiga-toxin producing Escherichia coli, Salmonella spp., Listeria monocytogenes, Toxoplasma gondii, Cryptosporidium parvum, Cyclospora cayetanensis, and human norovirus. Food products will include fresh and fresh-cut leafy greens, root and berry produce and LMF, such as nuts, cereals, and spices. Logarithmic reductions of bacterial pathogens and parasites will be determined using a viable count method and a combination of cell culture and mouse models, respectively. Since human norovirus cannot be grown in cell culture, the inactivation of human norovirus will be determined using a novel published receptor-binding assay and the infectivity will be further verified in a published gnotobiotic pig model. Similarly, work with the protozoan parasite T. gondii will be used to asses Cyclospora, which cannot be grown in cell culture or in animal models. The use of two phenotypically different protozoa (Cryptosporidium and Toxoplasma) will be useful. Mathematical models will be developed to describe inactivation kinetics. The effects of these processing technologies on product quality attributes, such as sensory, color, texture, nutrients, and consumer acceptance, will be evaluated using instruments in conjunction with sensory panels. Technologies that are capable of achieving the desired performance standards for hazard reduction, nutrition, and quality will be optimized for industrial applications. By working with growers, processors, economic researchers, and environmental scientists, the costs, benefits, and environmental impact of implementing the technologies will also be determined.