Buyers say tomato research gives them leverage

07/09/2013 05:05:00 PM
Coral Beach

ROCHESTER, N.Y. — Recent research results on tomato harvesting and handling give buyers the backup they need when growers and shippers try to negotiate out of food safety requirements, according to a panel at the Center for Produce Safety Research Symposium.

Michelle Danyluk, assistant professor University of FloridaCoral BeachFood safety researcher Michelle Danyluk, an assistant professor at the University of Florida, is a member of the International Association for Food Protection and the Institute of Food Technologists.The fourth annual symposium was at the Wegmans Conference Center and attracted more than 300 attendees in late June. It included presentations from 16 scientists whose fresh produce research projects received CPS funding.

Two of the projects involved pathogen transfer risks and survival rates in different aspects of harvesting and handling field-grown tomatoes.

Michelle Danyluk, an assistant professor specializing in microbial food safety and quality at the University of Florida, looked at “established standards” to remove dirt and debris from tomatoes during field packing — using cloths to wipe and shine — and the reuse of cartons in repack operations.

The two-year project showed cloths easily transfer pathogens from one tomato to at least 25 more tomatoes.

Danyluk also documented that dirt on cartons harbors pathogens and transfers them to tomatoes. Danyluk said the results were expected, but the rate of pathogen transfer was higher than anticipated.

“Now that there is data, we will go back and talk to our suppliers to make sure (they meet our requirements),” said Michael Burness, vice president of global quality and food safety at Chiquita Brands International Inc.

Burness was one of four panelists who discussed practical applications of research following scientists’ presentations on pathogen transference.

Also on the panel was Jorge Hernandez, senior vice president for food safety and quality assurance at US Foods.

“We have been working with our suppliers to stop this (use of cloths) and this gives us data to back up our requirements,” Hernandez said.

Lynne Landsborough, associate professor at the University of Massachusetts-AmherstCoral BeachMicrobiologist Lynne Landsborough is an associate professor in the Department of Food Science and an associate member of the Molecular and Cellular Biology Interdisciplinary Program at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst.In a separate research project, Lynne McLandsborough, an assistant professor in the department of food science at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, studied the survival, transfer and inactivation of salmonella on plastic materials used during the harvest of field tomatoes.

She specifically documented salmonella levels on plastic bins and gloves workers use to gather tomatoes from the fields.

Data from the 25-month research project led her to conclude that the pathogen does survive easily on the surfaces of the bins, especially if dirt is allowed to accumulate because it provides a “safe place” for the salmonella to live.


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Gary    
Detroit  |  July, 10, 2013 at 10:02 AM

Bogus to PICK ON TOMATOES, again. Go to any supermarket and do the same tests on any bulk item and they will test positive. And no cloths are used!! Produce personnel don't wash their hands after handling boxes which have set on pallets which have set on floors. Consumers don't wash their hands after picking over the bulk produce - after sneezing in their hands, handling dirty shopping carts, etc. Get real people.

Vance    
Phoenix, AZ  |  July, 10, 2013 at 12:43 PM

Well if the tomato packers don't use the cloths then they can't be blamed and the real culprit (consumers/retail establishments) can take the loss. That being said, anyone who doesn't wash their produce prior to eating it; is a complete nut case and probably deserves to be sick and not allowed to sue because they got sick from contaminated food. It's is NOT about picking on any single commodity, it should be about protecting public health in every way possible. Produce growers, harvesters, and distributors should be ashamed. After all, it could be their own personal family that gets sick.

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