July 20, 2017

Scientist Develop Plastic Pouches to Make Produce Safer

The USDA’s Agricultural Research Service (ARS) is assisting a company developing a small plastic pouch that is designed to make produce safer. Many food poisoning outbreaks in the past few years have been linked to contaminated fruits and vegetables. Plant pathologist Jinhe Bai and his colleagues helped develop the pouch.

Produce

The company, Worrell Water Technologist of Delray Beach, Florida, wants to market the pouches to wholesalers and produce packers all around the world. The pouches are packed into shipping containers. The pouch slowly releases chlorine dioxide gas, which kills E. coli and other pathogenic bacteria on the produce. They vent chlorine dioxide gas at a controlled rate using a semi-permeable membrane.

Controlled rates of the gas release is crucial, since if it is released too quickly, it can cause chemical burns on the fruits and vegetables. Bai said, “We helped test the pouch with the new design and found it vents at a more controlled rate and has the desired effect.”

Bai added that at least 25 percent of the fruits and vegetables that are produced around the world are lost after harvest because of microbial contamination spoilage. And if the produce isn’t well washed or cooked before consumption, E. coli and other pathogenic bacteria can cause serious illness.

Sanitizers are usually used to kill microbes on produce. U.S. food processors use chlorine in the wash water. In Europe, chlorine dioxide gas may be pumped into storage rooms to sanitize fruits and vegetables.

Bai and the researchers who worked with him put the pouches into cartons containing grapefruit. They used typical packing, shipping, and storage containers. A panel then examined the fruit, and found that the treatment “didn’t change the appearance of taste of the grapefruit.”

Lab tests found a 100,000-fold reduction in E. coli levels in grape tomatoes that were inoculated with the bacteria, then stored with the pouches. Researchers say that more studies are needed to assess the pouches’ effectiveness on specific vegetables and fruits.

The pouches only cost a few cents apiece, and only two or three are needed in every crate or carton. The company hopes that federal regulatory approval for this product will be granted soon.

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