by Enrico Villamaino

The Center for Produce Study (CPS) recently celebrated receipt of a grant from the Washington State Department of Agriculture (WSDA). CPS is a nonprofit that brings together industrial, governmental and scientific communities to conduct research needed to continually enhance food safety.

Bonnie Fernandes-Fenaroli has served as executive director at the Center for Produce Study for 13 years. Photo courtesy of Bonnie Fernandes-Fenaroli

The grant is one of a number funded by the USDA’s Specialty Crop Block Grant Program (SCBGP) and apportioned by WSDA. The $250,000 award will help to fund the CPS’s proposed project “Validation Study for the Tree-Fruit Industry: Effective Strategies to Sanitize Harvest Bins and Picking Bags.”

Bonnie Fernandez-Fenaroli, who has served as CPS’s executive director since its founding 13 years ago, said this project exemplifies CPS’s commitment to practical innovation. “The projects we propose can’t just be interesting, they can’t just be academic or scientific projects conducted for their own sake. We make sure that we work closely with industry professionals, both at home and internationally, to ensure that our research has not only scientific credibility but applications that are industry useful.” She pointed out CPS’s past research with Listeria, Salmonella, E. coli bacteria and agricultural water as examples of the organization’s efforts to help present actionable plans to ag professionals.

The study will take place from Jan. 1, 2022 – Dec. 31, 2023 and will be overseen by Dr. Valentina Trinetta of Kansas State University. The research team will be working hand in hand with the Washington Tree Fruit Association.

The goal of the project is to test methods to reduce foodborne illnesses by controlling potential food safety risk points during harvesting, processing and distribution. Despite evidence that harvesting tools, bins and containers have been “microbial reservoirs” in numerous outbreaks, the lack of industry-wide conventions for cleaning and sanitizing bins and picking bags have hampered producers’ efforts to forestall future outbreaks. The project seeks to develop science-based recommendations to standardize cleaning and sanitation practices for harvesting operations.

CPS’s two main research objectives are to evaluate the effectiveness of commercially available sanitizers (chlorine, chlorine dioxide, peracid, steam and silver dihydrogen citrate) in reducing Listeria, Salmonella and E. coli during harvesting, and to validate the use of selected sanitizers on bins and harvesting bags at commercial operations.

“This project will have a broad, meaningful economic and public health impact,” said Trinetta. “The data generated will improve the competitiveness of tree fruit crops by increasing the number of available strategies that can be implemented by growers and packers to ensure produce safety linked to sanitation of picking bags and harvest bins. Furthermore, we will be able to reach and engage a wide and diverse audience, since our multidisciplinary team has access to primary sites of small-scale and large-scale production.”

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