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ARS Home » Northeast Area » Wyndmoor, Pennsylvania » Eastern Regional Research Center » Residue Chemistry and Predictive Microbiology Research » Research » Research Project #438140

Research Project: Mitigation of Foodborne Pathogens in Water and Fresh Produce via Application of Biochar

Location: Residue Chemistry and Predictive Microbiology Research

Project Number: 8072-41420-022-00-D
Project Type: In-House Appropriated

Start Date: Jan 5, 2021
End Date: Sep 30, 2021

Objective 1: To prevent manure runoff into surface and, otherwise, irrigation waters, examine the use of biochar as an antimicrobial and filtration intervention, for example, combining biochar filtration with ARS pre-existing zero-valent water filtration technology. [NP 108, C1, PS5] Objective 2: Examine the use of adding biochar to compost piles, in order to inactivate pathogens in the compost but especially the problematic “toes” of manure piles. [NP 108, C1, PS5] Objective 3: Determine if the physiological state of bacterial cells on produce affects the potential to remove them during processing. That is, determine if the time of compost application to a field, with and without biochar, affects the level, type and resistance of contamination on produce.

The approach of project will follow three objectives. The first objective will evaluate the ability of biochar filters to remove pathogenic bacteria from surface irrigation waters with or without zero valent iron and sand-composite filtration. Biochar pyrolysis will be optimized for this purpose by altering the residence time, temperature and biofeedstock with an in-house biochar slow-pyrolysis reactor. The optimized water filtration units will then be scaled up to reduce pathogens in irrigation water, lowering the risk of foodborne illness from irrigated fresh produce. Second, pyrolysis will be further optimized for maximal antimicrobial efficacy of biochar. This biochar will then be utilized in lab-scale and field-trial dairy and poultry compost experiments with the goal of more rapidly inactivating EHEC and Salmonella. Successful results will allow for shorter composting times prior to field application, which will decrease the chances for pathogenic bacteria to survive the process and contaminate field crops. Third, virulent bacteria that is harbored on growing produce may be variably able to resist inactivation in antimicrobial washes based on the time from contamination of the commodity up until sanitization water treatments. The third objective proposes to elucidate factors that affect the bacterial “hardening” toward intervention treatments, such as time following inoculation, temperature, humidity, type of produce commodity, and the presence of biochar generated in objective 2. Stakeholders will be consulted and collaborated with for all objectives, and technology will be transferred to the appropriate entities. Overall, the results and outcomes from this project plan will increase the safety of fresh fruits and vegetables and lower the burden of human-related illnesses caused by foodborne pathogens by providing practical intervention solutions for farmers, packers, processors and distributers of fresh produce, related to foodborne pathogens.