When vegetable farmers harvest crops, they often rely on postharvest washing to reduce any foodborne pathogens, but a new University of Georgia study shows promise in reducing these pathogens — as well as lowering labor costs — by applying sanitizers to produce while it is still in the fields.
Salmonella, Shiga toxin-producing E. coli and Listeria monocytogenes are major causes of foodborne diseases and of public health concern in the U.S. Tomato-associated salmonella outbreaks reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have increased in frequency and magnitude in recent years, and fresh produce accounted for 21% of E. coli outbreaks reported to the CDC over a 20-year span.
Initially researchers were going to study the use of a nonchlorine-based sanitizer made of two food additives approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration — levulinic acid and sodium dodecyl sulfate — as a postharvest wash solution. However, at the suggestion of a producer involved in the study — Bill Brim of Lewis Taylor Farms in Tifton, Georgia — they designed the study using the solution in a preharvest spray, said Tong Zhao, associate research scientist with the Center for Food Safety on the UGA Griffin campus.
While producers commonly use chlorine-based disinfectants — including chlorine gas, sodium hypochlorite, calcium hypochlorite and chlorine dioxide — to treat produce postharvest, the preharvest application of bactericides is not a common practice, Zhao said.