Pouches release chlorine dioxide to eliminate E. coli from produce.
Battling the contamination of fruits and vegetables is an ongoing problem. New technologies are under development. Among them, a small plastic pouch is designed to make produce safer. The pouch releases chlorine dioxide gas, which eliminates Escherichia coli bacteria and other pathogens from the surfaces of fruits and vegetables.
Each pouch is about half the size of a credit card and can be packed into shipping containers. USDA-ARS scientists and Worrell Water Technologies LLC, Delray Beach, FL, are working together and intend to market them to wholesalers and packers of produce.
The pouch is a new product for Worrell, which markets water purification technologies. The technology, under the Curoxin[R] Cl[O.sub.2] name, is protected by Worrell Water Technologies' patents and trade secrets. Worrell is seeking a partner that has marketing and distribution capability in the food and agriculture sector to support further targeted development of the technology best suited to the partner's needs.
Researchers had found that the chlorine dioxide gas could be released too quickly, which could cause chemical burns on fruit. The pouch was redesigned with a semi-permeable membrane that vents the gas at a slower rate to reach the desired effect. The pouches cost a few cents each, and only one to three are needed per crate or carton.
At least 25 percent of the fruits and vegetables produced worldwide are lost after harvest because of microbial contamination. And E. coli and other pathogens on the surface of produce can cause illness if the produce isn't well washed or cooked. Sanitizers are often used to kill microbes on produce. US food processors add chlorine to the wash water. In Europe, chlorine dioxide is sometimes pumped into storage rooms to sanitize produce. But chlorine dioxide packaged in a proprietary, plastic pouch is a novel approach.
When the scientists put the pouches into cartons of grapefruit under typical packing, shipping and storage conditions, they found 10 times fewer bacterial and fungal pathogens than on grapefruit stored without pouches. ARS volunteers found that the treatments didn't change the appearance or taste of the grapefruit.
Other laboratory tests showed a 100,000-fold reduction in E. coli levels in inoculated grape tomatoes stored with the pouches. The pouches have the potential to sanitize other produce besides those tested, but additional research is needed to assess their effectiveness on specific fruits and vegetables. Worrell anticipates federal regulatory approval for the pouches in the near future.
Further information. Jinhe Bai, US Horticultural Research Laboratory, 2001 South Rock Rd., Fort Pierce, FL 34945; phone: 772-462-5880; fax: 772-462-5986; email: firstname.lastname@example.org.