Michael Burness, Chiquita’s vice president for global quality and food safety, said during a panel discussion that Berry’s findings mean buyers should not merely rely on minimum distance requirements.
“In risk assessments we capture the data on wind, rain, whether the produce is uphill or downhill from the animals,” Burness said. “This research shows those factors are more important than previously thought.”
‘Hot dog’ sanitization
Another USDA scientist, Xuetong Fan, is working to develop methods for growers of soft fruits to remove pathogens without damaging the fragile product. His team worked with a mid-size grower to test the practicality of using ultraviolet light to sanitize apricots.
He found that bathing apricots in UV light while they pass through tunnel-like chambers on a conveyor killed some pathogens, but the light could not reach all sides of the apricots. Fan’s team modified a rotating hot dog cooking device to spin the apricots, thus exposing all sides without adding damaging drops to the pack line.
Sanitization results were dramatically better when the apricots were rotated, Fan said. The difficulty now is developing commercial-sized rotating devices and overcoming low levels of consumer concerns about ultraviolet exposure, he said.
USDA researcher Manan Sharma studied testing methods to detect pathogens in compost. During a panel discussion following Sharma’s presentation, Johnny Massa, manager of Salinas-based Comgro Soil Amendments Inc., said that testing is crucial, but added it is only one component of composting best practices.
Massa said growers should ask compost providers about production processes to make sure no shortcuts are involved in the interest of cost or time savings. Strict timetables for turning and drying, as well as regular temperature readings are absolutely necessary. He said pathogen problems arise when steps are skipped.
Salmonella and E. coli in particular will survive and multiply, Massa said, if composters “lick it, stick it and get it out the door” just to meet a delivery schedule. Production schedules should define compost production, he said.