SALINAS, Calif. — Seven researchers are putting the chlorine wash enhancer SmartWash through two weeks of intensive testing at New Leaf Food Safety Solutions.

Yaguang Luo and her colleagues at the U.S. Department of Agriculture and university research departments plan to announce their findings June 28 at the Center for Produce Safety produce research symposium in Orlando, Fla.

A group of about 30 Salinas Valley foodservice and grower-shipper representatives — some of them salad company competitors with Taylor Farms, which like New Leaf is a unit of Taylor Fresh Foods — toured the New Leaf facility April 6.

Research on the proprietary SmartWash process — earlier known as T128 — was one of eight projects funded two years ago by the Center for Produce Safety. In fact, last year’s findings were favorable. But they reflected laboratory work, and needed validation in a processing facility.

“So far, we have conducted the majority of the work in the lab,” Luo said.

“The results we obtained showed the benefit of this chemical mix in terms of reducing pathogens in water when the chlorine concentration was low. To scale up, we came here to validate the lab results.”

The researchers processed 7,000 pounds a day of spinach, lettuce and leafy greens. They checked for cross-contamination on E. coli.

“Right now most research is focused on pathogen reduction. However, we also recognize the importance of pathogen survival in the wash water and its role in cross contamination,” Luo said.

“We are examining survival in wash water by testing the performance of a new chemical mixture formulated by industry scientists.”

SmartWash targets diminished chlorine levels than can result from high turbidity in wash water. The premise is that lower chlorine creates a risk of cross-contamination.

“Unless contaminated, lettuce and spinach are free of pathogens,” Luo said.

“To conduct our studies we’re artificially adding E. coli bacteria into a controlled setting so that we can see how the bacteria spreads from one produce to another, if they are washed together.”

As the wash lines churned away, New Leaf officials explained the process to representatives of Sysco, Markon Cooperative, Church Bros., NewStar Fresh Foods, Duda Farm Fresh Foods and other companies.

The company hopes to license SmartWash to other processors.

“We want to let everybody know we’re here and what we’re doing,” said Tanya Mason, vice president of business development for New Leaf.

“The mission is to make outbreaks a thing of the past or at least get them out of the spotlight on our industry.

Researchers testing SmartWash on the line

Mike Hornick

Tanya Mason, vice president of business development at New Leaf Food Safety Solutions, speaks to a group touring the Salinas, Calif., facility April 6. The tour focused on the company's SmartWash chlorine wash enhancer, and participants included Mike Jantschke, (left), director of food safety at Monterey, Calif.-based Pro*Act