ROCHESTER, N.Y. — Recent research results on tomato harvesting and handling give buyers the backup they need when growers and shippers try to negotiate out of food safety requirements, according to a panel at the Center for Produce Safety Research Symposium.
Coral BeachFood safety researcher Michelle Danyluk, an assistant professor at the University of Florida, is a member of the International Association for Food Protection and the Institute of Food Technologists.The fourth annual symposium was at the Wegmans Conference Center and attracted more than 300 attendees in late June. It included presentations from 16 scientists whose fresh produce research projects received CPS funding.
Two of the projects involved pathogen transfer risks and survival rates in different aspects of harvesting and handling field-grown tomatoes.
Michelle Danyluk, an assistant professor specializing in microbial food safety and quality at the University of Florida, looked at “established standards” to remove dirt and debris from tomatoes during field packing — using cloths to wipe and shine — and the reuse of cartons in repack operations.
The two-year project showed cloths easily transfer pathogens from one tomato to at least 25 more tomatoes.
Danyluk also documented that dirt on cartons harbors pathogens and transfers them to tomatoes. Danyluk said the results were expected, but the rate of pathogen transfer was higher than anticipated.
“Now that there is data, we will go back and talk to our suppliers to make sure (they meet our requirements),” said Michael Burness, vice president of global quality and food safety at Chiquita Brands International Inc.
Burness was one of four panelists who discussed practical applications of research following scientists’ presentations on pathogen transference.
Also on the panel was Jorge Hernandez, senior vice president for food safety and quality assurance at US Foods.
“We have been working with our suppliers to stop this (use of cloths) and this gives us data to back up our requirements,” Hernandez said.
Coral BeachMicrobiologist Lynne Landsborough is an associate professor in the Department of Food Science and an associate member of the Molecular and Cellular Biology Interdisciplinary Program at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst.In a separate research project, Lynne McLandsborough, an assistant professor in the department of food science at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, studied the survival, transfer and inactivation of salmonella on plastic materials used during the harvest of field tomatoes.
She specifically documented salmonella levels on plastic bins and gloves workers use to gather tomatoes from the fields.
Data from the 25-month research project led her to conclude that the pathogen does survive easily on the surfaces of the bins, especially if dirt is allowed to accumulate because it provides a “safe place” for the salmonella to live.