Research looks for organic-friendly wash solution

03/06/2013 07:19:00 AM
Tom Karst

USDA organic produceResearch to find an effective postharvest washing solution for organic produce is being spurred by a $2 million grant from the from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Researchers at the University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture and North Carolina State University are involved with a multi-year study that began last fall with a grant from the USDA’s Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative, according to a news release from the universities.

“The goal of the project is to provide safe, alternative, sustainable and effective treatments to reduce foodborne illnesses caused by E. coli, listeria and salmonella contamination in organic produce,” Qixin Zhong, an associate professor in the UT Department of Food Science and Technology, said in the release.

While allowed for organic produce, chlorine in wash water is not preferred, said Penelope Perkins-Veazie, a professor and postharvest physiologist with NCSU’s Plants for Human Health Institute.

“The problem that organic people have had with it is that it is not exactly considered sustainable,” she said.

The chlorine smell and difficulties in monitoring chlorine levels add to the need for alternatives, Perkins-Veazie said.

Zhong said in the release that the group hopes to provide effective treatments in the form of alternative organic antimicrobials — naturally occurring substances such as organic essential oils that fight pathogens like E. coli — added to postharvest wash water.

“To improve microbiological safety of organic produce, there is an urgent need to develop washing practices that not only enhance sanitation effectiveness but also fulfill the requirement of organic fresh produce,” Zhong said in the release.

Effective treatments are being sought in the form of naturally occurring substances such as organic essential oils, which can kill pathogens like E. coli when added to postharvest wash water, according to the release.

The projected four-year study, “Alternative Post-harvest Washing Solutions to Enhance the Microbial Safety and Quality of Organic Fresh Produce,” will consider the economics of alternatives, potential changes in taste and smell, and the effect on shelf life, according to the news release.

“We have started the preliminary testing and just now getting to the stage where we are getting our base anti-microbial systems together,” said Faith Critzer, a University of Tennessee extension specialist and faculty member of the UT Department of Food Science and Technology.


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ET Ingram    
Salinas, CA  |  March, 06, 2013 at 09:56 AM

This is an example of wasted taxpayer money. If Chlorine is a problem, try using Hydrogen Peroxide. To me, the issue is not "Is it sustainable?" It is "Does it work?" Spending millions of dollars on research is a waste when there are already solutions out there.

Renaud    
Doninican Republic  |  March, 06, 2013 at 11:10 AM

Ozone is already a proven technology, no residues and obviously accepted in organic!!!!!

John    
Florida  |  March, 13, 2013 at 07:18 AM

What a waste. There are already so many available antimicrobials for organic produce washing. They talk about sustainability, but they must not mean for your bank account balance. Most of the essential oils I see for sale are about $10 for less than a liquid ounce.

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