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Water additive reduces pathogens in fruit, vegetables

By Ahmed ElAmin , 05-May-2006

A antimicrobial water additive has become the first of its kind to receive registration under the Environmental Protection Agency rules, according to the manufacturer.

Fresh produce is catching up with chicken as a major culprit of Salmonella infections in the US, according to an analysis of food-poisoning outbreaks by a consumer lobby group.

Ecolab claims its Tsunami 100 product reduces pathogens in the water used to clean fruit and vegetables.

Tsunami 100 works against the Escherichia coli O157:H7, Listeria monocytogenes and Salmonella enterica when added to cleaning water. In addition, the product also helps extends the shelf life of fresh-cut and processed fruits and vegetables by controlling the spoilage effect caused by other non-pathogenic organisms.

"Health standards involved in fresh produce processing are becoming more and more stringent as consumption of fresh produce by health-conscious consumers rises to an all time high," stated John Tengwall, vice president of marketing for Ecolab's food and beverage division.

Tsunami 100 has low reactivity with organics and soils in process wash waters, making it easier to maintain a consistent dosage for microbial control, Ecolab claims.

"It is a versatile product that can be successfully applied in all major processing steps, including multi-stage flumes, chill tanks, coolers and washing in fresh cut, post harvest and further processed facilities," the company claimed.

Tsunami 100 is designed to be used on vegetables and fruits, both whole and cut, with no rinse required. It cannot be used as a hard surface food contact sanitizer.

The Centre for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) last year issued a report indicates produce-related outbreaks tend to be larger than poultry-related outbreaks, and sicken more people, sometimes hundreds at a time.

Fresh produce triggered 554 outbreaks, sickening 28,315 people. Of those 554 outbreaks, 111 were due to Salmonella. Although poultry has historically been responsible for far more Salmonella infections, produce seems to be catching up, CSPI stated.

From 1990 to 2001 poultry accounted for 121 Salmonella outbreaks and produce accounted for 80. But in 2002 to 2003, produce accounted for 31 Salmonella outbreaks and poultry accounted for 29.

The group is also calling on the Food and Drug Administration to require growers to limit the use of manure to times and products where it poses no risk. And packers and shippers should mark packaging to ensure easy traceback when fruits and vegetables are implicated in an outbreak.

"Fresh fruits and vegetables are at the center of a healthy diet, so it's critical that steps are taken to improve their safety," CSPI food safety director Caroline Smith DeWaal stated.

The CSPI database indicates that seafood was responsible for 899 outbreaks during the study period, more than any other food. However seafood only accounted for about 9,312 illnesses.

Unsafe poultry products triggered 476 outbreaks involving 14,729 illnesses, while beef triggered 438 outbreaks involving 12,702 illnesses. Eggs caused 329 outbreaks of sickness, involving 10,847 people.

The Centers for Disease Control estimates that 76 million Americans get sick and 5,000 die from foodborne hazards each year.

In recent years, Salmonella outbreaks have been traced back to lettuce, salads, melons, sprouts, tomatoes and other fruit- and vegetable-containing dishes. In 2004, there were three separate outbreaks involving 561 Salmonella infections that were linked to contaminated Roma tomatoes.

From 2000 to 2002, Salmonella-contaminated cantaloupe imported from Mexico sickened 155 and killed two.

Salmonella isn't the only pathogen that ends up on produce. In 2003, green onions in salsa from a ChiChi's restaurant in Pennsylvania transmitted hepatitis A to 555 people, killing three.

A bagged salad mix given restaurant patrons in the San Diego area infected 50 people with E. coli during the same year.

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