Lettuce experiment shows potential for organic food wash

12/18/2013 10:01:00 AM
Coral Beach

Recent research on a citric acid-based food wash developed nine years ago for a California olive and almond grower showed the product can provide a chemical-free alternative to traditional additives for fresh produce wash water.

Merritt Erickson, chief operations officer for Orland, Calif.-based E3 Organics Inc., said the company’s Organic CHICO Wash has the potential to cut costs for fresh produce operations by allowing for extended reuse of wash water.

The product, which is certified by the Washington State Department of Agriculture’s Organic Program for use in organic production and harvesting, could further cut costs because spent wash water treated with it can be used for irrigation after being held for only three days, Erickson said during a Web presentation Dec. 12.

Food safety researcher Sadhana Ravishankar, University of Arizona, said she plans to publish results of her fall research project during the next academic semester in 2014. Her next step with Organic CHICO Wash will be to try to replicate her results in large-scale experiments that more closely represent real-world uses. She said she hopes to begin that project in January.

Produce industry standard practices still define the purpose of wash water additives to be the prevention of cross contamination, but Erickson said Organic CHICO Wash has the potential to be a kill step for pathogens on fresh produce during the wash process.

Trevor Suslow, a scientist with the University of California’s Extension Service who regularly works with the Center for Produce Safety, said a wash water additive that can be used as a kill step is something many people have been working to develop for many years.

“Their work is encouraging,” Suslow said of the E3 Organics. “All of us (in the food safety sector) look forward to seeing their data package for the efficacy of the product relative to other chemistries.”

Suslow said substances with low pH factors, such as citric acid, are well known for doing well in terms of killing potential against foodborne pathogens.

Radishankar’s recent research involved iceberg lettuce in small quantities. Previous studies with Organic CHICO Wash involved celery and leeks. The lettuce experiment this fall showed that wash water with CHICO Wash retained its killing power on “background microflora” even after 30 uses.

Erickson said Organic CHICO Wash has gained approval from the Food and Drug Administration as an accepted food wash against bacteria.

He said the California Department of Pesticide Regulation has approved the product to sanitize seeds and clean food equipment, including harvest equipment in fields and food contact surfaces. The California Department of Health Services has also approved it for a pH control process and it may be used in place of a thermal process.

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