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ARS Home » Northeast Area » Wyndmoor, Pennsylvania » Eastern Regional Research Center » Microbial and Chemical Food Safety » Research » Research Project #438140

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

Location: Microbial and Chemical Food Safety

Project Number: 8072-41420-022-000-D
Project Type: In-House Appropriated

Start Date: Jan 5, 2021
End Date: Jan 4, 2026

Objective 1: To mitigate issues with bacterial pathogen-contaminated 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. 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.

The approach of project will follow two 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. 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.