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ARS Home » Northeast Area » Wyndmoor, Pennsylvania » Eastern Regional Research Center » Microbial and Chemical Food Safety » Research » Research Project #440207

Research Project: Integration and Validation of Alternative and Multiple Intervention Technologies to Enhance Microbial Safety, Quality, and Shelf-life of Food

Location: Microbial and Chemical Food Safety

Project Number: 8072-41420-026-000-D
Project Type: In-House Appropriated

Start Date: Feb 10, 2021
End Date: Feb 9, 2026

Objective 1: Utilize novel biological, chemical, and physical technologies to inactivate microbial contamination in and on various food products, which can include and is not limited to produce, nuts, meats and ready-to-eat foods. Directly utilize the hurdle concept to develop processing methods which have a direct application to the need of the industry. Optimize the processes to allow scale-up to commercial treatment levels, appreciating the complexity of the interventions in terms of the food to be treated, the processing conditions, the equipment necessary, and the sensory and nutritional qualities of the food types treated. Sub-objective 1. Investigate surface characteristics of food and bacteria, bacterial attachment, biofilm formation, and pathogen inactivation mechanisms for potential effective chemical and physical interventions. Sub-objective 2. Develop and optimize biological, chemical, physical and packaging decontamination interventions that do not affect food quality, making use of pathogen microbial ecology information generated under sub-objective 1 Sub-objective 3. Establish protocols for combination treatments and develop hurdle interventions to achieve additive or synergistic effects on pathogen reduction by combining biological, chemical and physical interventions developed in sub-objective 2, while maintaining or improving the quality and shelf-life of foods. Sub-objective 4. Conduct scaled-up studies of effective single or hurdle interventions demonstrated in sub-objectives 2 and 3, to facilitate commercialization of the technologies.

This project will progress in four phases: elucidate pathogen ecology and inactivation mechanisms; evaluate single interventions; apply a combination of interventions; and conduct pilot scale studies (Fig. 1). Initially, we will investigate bacterial attachment, biofilm formation, and bacterial inactivation mechanisms as affected by potential interventions. This knowledge will aid us in choosing and optimizing biological, chemical, packaging and physical control strategies. Selection of intervention technologies will also be based on earlier research conducted by our own group and by others. The optimized interventions will be strategically integrated to achieve additive and synergistic effects on pathogen reduction. The effects of these processing technologies on product quality attributes will be evaluated using instruments to measure quality aspects in conjunction with sensory panels. Both individual and combination intervention technologies capable of achieving the desired performance standards for pathogen reduction, quality and shelf life will be optimized and validated in scaled up studies in our unique BSL-2 pilot plant for large-scale trials where large volumes of foods can be treated. The types of foods evaluated in the project will be those frequently involved in outbreaks of foodborne illnesses or associated with emerging pathogens, fresh produce items that are hard to sanitize due to surface characteristics, and foods that cannot be subjected to traditional wash treatments. To facilitate commercialization of effective interventions, collaborations with the food industry will be established by actively fostering interactions with stakeholders. Stakeholders will be updated via direct interactions, site visits, annual scientific meetings and trade shows regarding research goals and objectives of the project, and inputs will be solicited to identify key problems to be solved so that the technologies will be more relevant and applicable. Although much of the effort will be on hurdle technologies that combine various individual interventions, effective individual treatments along with integrated ones will be tested in pilot scale studies. In addition, even though the project will be conducted in a progressive 4-stage process, the flow or order of research accomplishments will not be strictly chronological as there will be opportunities for technologies to be implemented by the industry at every stage of the project via establishment of research and development agreements and technology transfer.