(UPDATED COVERAGE, May 26) Chiquita Brands International is launching a national advertising campaign that touts flavor and freshness in Fresh Express salads — and the company’s food safety technology, Fresh Rinse.

Television, print and online ads start this week behind a tagline of “consistently, deliciously fresh,” said Bob Stallman, general manager of salads at Cincinnati-based Chiquita, parent company of Fresh Express, Salinas, Calif.

For Fresh Rinse, it’s the latest step in a gradual rollout of the chlorine-wash alternative that began at the Produce Marketing Association convention in October.

“Fresh Express salads are washed in Fresh Rinse, a breakthrough eco-friendly wash that now cleans our salads seven times better,” one ad tells consumers after a chef praises the product’s taste.

More than a year after the first Fresh Express salad plant began using Fresh Rinse, all seven plants have adopted it, said Mike Burness, vice president of global quality and food safety.

“As of May 24, Fresh Express salads will be offered as thoroughly washed in Fresh Rinse,” he said.

A Fresh Rinse logo will be added to salad packages, a gradual move the company expects to complete as the year goes on.

In the industry, food safety measures haven’t been a common topic for advertising. Tim York, president of Salinas, Calif.-based Markon Cooperative, said such advertising is problematic — even if the industry ultimately embraces the product.

“We’re back to the food safety wars,” York said. “I have the usual concerns we have in the industry about dueling food safety programs. If indeed it claims to be seven times better, does that mean what we’ve been eating is dirty or not safe? It leads to that inevitable question.”

“I’m sure it’s a good product,” York said. “I’m just not sure that’s what the industry should be doing at this point — saying, ‘I’m better than you are.’”

On the whole, York said, the industry is yet to be convinced by the claims for Fresh Rinse.

“I can almost guarantee you there are detractors who have run parallel tests based on the patent filings and will say it’s not seven times better, it may even be worse,” he said. “But there’s a great unknown (in such tests) — you don’t know what’s the missing process or ingredient. We need industry vetting. If it’s seven times better, we’ll be the first to say amen and sign up. It’d be crazy not to, and irresponsible.”

Chiquita project adviser Michael Osterholm, a professor in the School of Public Health at the University of Minnesota, said it’s appropriate to include Fresh Rinse in advertising.

“This is not about (Chiquita) gaining an advantage, this is really pulling the entire industry up to a new level,” Osterholm said. “Any time you have an advance like this, it really isn’t marketing food safety. We want to get information out. If this was really a marketing issue, this company would keep it unique to themselves and try to sell product based on that.”

Osterholm said Chiquita is offering the process to other companies through licensing agreements — a sign that Chiquita’s goal is to enhance overall produce safety.

“One can never, nor should one ever, market on food safety as an issue,” he said. “It should really be the entire industry.”

Stallman said food safety is a secondary issue for consumers — but worth addressing.

“Freshness and taste are the primary purchase drivers,” he said. “Safety is a kind of back-of-the-mind concern. The key thing is to make sure consumers know our products are consistently delivering fresh, high-quality salad. But Fresh Rinse adds a nice layer to help answer some of those back-of-the-mind questions.”

The fine print in ads compares Fresh Rinse to traditional chlorine washes, but the main text mentions only Fresh Rinse, Stallman said.

Chiquita makes strong claims for Fresh Rinse. It plans to back them up in a peer-reviewed scientific paper, “Efficacy of a Novel Sanitizer Comprised of Lactic Acid and Peroxyacetic Acid,” that’s been accepted for publication by The Journal of Food Protection, said Kai Lai “Grace” Ho, the company’s principal scientist and the technology’s inventor.

It’s the first of two planned papers, Ho said. A publication date has not been set.

Among the claims are that Fresh Rinse kills 1 million times or more E. coli 0157:H7 and salmonella pathogens floating in wash water than chlorine washes. Reduction factors for cells attached to romaine lettuce, Ho said, were almost 500 times for E. coli and 100 for salmonella.

At the PMA convention, Burness said, Chiquita made commitments on Fresh Rinse that it has followed through on. The newly announced peer-reviewed paper was one. Another involved holding meetings soon after the convention between Chiquita officials; Dave Gombas, senior vice president for food safety and technology at United Fresh Produce Association; and Bob Whitaker, PMA chief science and technology officer.

Full conversion of the product line to Fresh Rinse was another.

The next step, Burness said, is developing the licensing framework.

“(Fresh Rinse) is not a silver bullet, not ultimate sterility, but it’s one more key step in a multistep process that starts on the farm through processing and packaging to the consumer,” said David Acheson, managing director of food and import safety for Leavitt Partners and former Food and Drug Administration associate commissioner for food protection.