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ARS Home » Northeast Area » Beltsville, Maryland (BARC) » Beltsville Agricultural Research Center » Environmental Microbial & Food Safety Laboratory » Research » Research Project #432028

Research Project: Improving Food Quality and Safety during Tomato Packing and Fresh-cut Produce Retail Handling

Location: Environmental Microbial & Food Safety Laboratory

Project Number: 8042-32420-006-20-A
Project Type: Cooperative Agreement

Start Date: Oct 1, 2016
End Date: Jul 31, 2020

1. Complete tasks proposed in the USDA-NIFA research grant pertaining to pathogen cross-contamination during tomato packing house operation and also support extension/outreach to industry stakeholders and consumers. 2. Complete tasks proposed in the USDA-NIFA research grant pertaining to the evaluation of effects on fresh-cut produce quality and safety, and energy use for open and closed-door display case configurations; also support the economics team in evaluating the sales impact from open and closed-door cases.

Cooperators will work on the tomato packing house portion of the project (Objective 1) and the cold chain portion of the studies (Objective 4). Cooperators will also coordinate with the economics team and support their work in evaluating the sales impact from open and closed-door cases (Objective 5). Cooperators will work in conjunction with other member of the team on non-pathogen-related studies performed in commercial facilities in Florida. Changes in water quality, sanitizer concentration, and product quality will be monitored under various processing conditions during normal processing times. The evaluation of indicator organisms and/or non-pathogenic microbes will be monitored to assess changing efficacy. Cooperators will also continue, expand, and complete the evaluation of chlorine concentration for preventing pathogen cross-contamination during simulated tomato packing house operations. Cooperators will quantify the benefits of more uniform temperature, with regard to pathogen growth, product quality, shelf life, and operational energy savings of retrofitting doors to open display cases. In retail-level studies, the cooperators will partner with at least two retail chains to quantify the current status of display cases with and without doors, and conduct a) field tests involving use of transmitting thermometers affixed unobtrusively to the bottoms of bagged-salad push shelves, b) purchases destined for microbial testing and quality evaluation, and c) measurements of energy use to compare open- and closed-door displays for fresh-cut leafy green vegetables. These retailers are in the process of retrofitting or replacing open multi-deck produce cases with doors in selected locations.