Summary of Awards to Date

Evaluation and optimization of postharvest intervention strategies for the reduction of bacterial contamination on tomatoes

Date

Oct. 1, 2009 - Oct. 31, 2011

Award Number

2009-51

Funding Agency

Center for Produce Safety

Amount Awarded

$293,240.00

Investigator

Keith Schneider, Ph.D.
University of Florida

Co-Investigator(s)

R. Goodrich-Schneider, Y. Luo, S. Sargent

Summary

The Florida tomato industry produces about 40% of the commercially grown fresh tomatoes in the US and account for approximately 40% ($619 million) of the total farm value of vegetables produced in Florida. Foodborne illness outbreaks associated with consumption of tomatoes contaminated with Salmonella spp. are a significant, ongoing problem. These outbreaks have caused a large number of illnesses and significantly impacted the entire country, not just Florida, but the entire US economy. Improving tomato food safety is an urgent and critical task.

The overall goal of this project is to provide tomato growers and packers specific information that will allow the improved food safety of fresh Florida tomatoes. This will be accomplished through the successful completion of the three proposal objectives: 1) to determine the effect of tomato dump tank water management on pathogen cross-contamination and infiltration; 2) to determine whether a dry-dump system utilizing an overhead spray rinse with a brush washer, is equal to or better than a flume system in removing surface pathogens from the surface to tomatoes; and finally 3) to develop of specific operation limits and monitoring recommendations for implementation in commercial settings, and ensure this information is disseminated to growers, packers and other stakeholders.

The over-arching outcome of this work will be to answer fundamental questions. Information gained will provide answers to set “functional limits an operator can use to ensure that effective sanitizer concentrations are present in the dump tank,” and answer the question as to when “the addition of additional chlorine is ill-advised or ineffective and the water needs to be partially or fully changed?” Other impacts of this work included reduced water use utilizing fine mist sprayers as opposed to large-volume flume tanks that require daily filling, draining and cleaning. Additionally, since the water used in the overhead spray system is not recirculated, less chemistry could be used, reducing the overall cost of operation while lower the environmental impact of a packing operation.