The Listeria monocytogenes outbreak linked to Dole packaged salads and greens has sickened at least 18 people in nine states. And there are two other ongoing outbreaks of illness linked to fresh produce products. An E. coli O157 outbreak linked to alfalfa sprouts produced by Jack and the Green Sprouts has sickened at least 9 people in two states. And a Salmonella Muenchen outbreak linked to Sweetwater Farms alfalfa sprouts has sickened 9 people in three states.
All of these outbreaks have consumers understandably nervous. The FDA says that we should continue consuming fresh produce for good health, and that the health benefits of these products outweighs the risk of illness. However, if you have been sickened after eating a salad or a sandwich, the health benefits of lettuce and sprouts may escape you. But help may be on the way.
An Agricultural Research Service scientist in Pennsylvania has developed an antimicrobial wash that reduces the risk of foodborne pathogens on fresh produce. Joshua Gurtler and his colleagues at NatureSeal Inc. have developed a spray that combines lactic acid, fruit acids, and hydrogen peroxide that can be used in a produce rinse for commercial food distributors.
This product, called First Step+ 10, will be used in the rinse tanks and flumes that wash fresh produce. The ingredients are all classified as Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) by the FDA. It is certified organic, biodegradable, and doesn’t affect the texture, smell, appearance, or taste of the produce. The wash has secured approval from the FDA and Gurtler and NatureSeal have filed a patent application.
When processing fresh fruits and vegetables, facilities sometimes reuse wash water. If some strawberries in one batch were contaminated with Salmonella, that water, when reused, can contaminate other produce. This rinse will cut back on waste water use along with reducing bacterial counts on these products.
In testing, fresh cut apples, baby spinach, cantaloupe rinds, and cherry tomatoes were inoculated with highly resistant outbreaks strains of E. coli O57:H7, Listeria monocytogenes, and Salmonella. The produce was then soaked in the First Step+ 10 wash for 5 minutes. Pathogen levels were tested in the wash water and on the produce.
After using the wash, pathogen levels on the produce were reduced by 99.99%. And the wash water was 100% free of pathogens, making it safer to reuse. Now if that product were available for consumer use!
If you have eaten recalled Dole salad products and have experienced the symptoms of Listeria monocytogenes, see your doctor. This outbreak has not yet been declared over, and the symptoms of listeriosis may not appear for 70 days after exposure. Those symptoms include flu-like fever and muscle aches, upset stomach, diarrhea, stiff neck, headache, and loss of balance. Pregnant women are especially vulnerable to this bacteria, and can suffer miscarriage, stillbirth, or premature labor even though they are only mildly ill.
If you have eaten recalled Sweetwater Farms alfalfa sprouts or recalled Jack and the Green Sprouts alfalfa and alfalfa onion sprouts and have experienced the symptoms of Salmonella food poisoning, see your doctor. Those symptoms include nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, diarrhea that may be bloody, fever, chills, headache, and muscle pains. Symptoms usually begin six to seventy-two hours after exposure and last for about a week.