Dr. Nitin and his team are discovering multiple techniques to minimize cross-contamination, which is a leading cause of foodborne outbreaks in fresh produce.
They study how to prevent produce from being contaminated by contact with water, equipment surfaces, and people during the washing, conveying, and handling processes. The team focuses on: 1) creating sustainable antimicrobial solutions; 2) developing a “gold standard” for washing procedures; and 3) standardizing process control steps.
One approach is the creation of specially designed antimicrobial plastic films used to prevent bacterial contamination of fresh produce from food contact surfaces such as totes, bins, and conveyor belts. These antimicrobial films inactivate bacteria upon contact and prevent formation of biofilms. The films are reusable and can be activated using a simple household bleach solution.
Another approach is the creation of a chemical free sanitation solution for maintaining fresh produce. This solution generates plasma-activated water or mist by treating the water or mist through electric discharges. In addition, the team is discovering how to sanitize fresh produce by combining food grade compounds with mild heat or light to deactivate bacteria in wash water and fresh produce.
“Our team’s mission is to help people by protecting our food supply. We translate solutions from the labs to the next level to secure safe, fresh produce and a sustainable food system.” – Nitin Nitin
The team is also establishing a “gold standard” for sanitizing and washing fresh produce to reduce cross-contamination. Several different washing methods are currently used. To advance best practices, they study the mechanics of washing and water-ﬂow rates, and how this affects washing efficiency.
Finally, the team is improving the process steps in fresh produce production systems to make the standards more uniform by developing simple yet effective sensing approaches to validate the process conditions.
This multi-prong, innovative approach is attacking cross-contamination from many angles to protect our produce.
Reprinted from SoAR Retaking the Field, Vol. 3