How to Apply Scientific Research to Solve Real-World Issues for Your Business
Lessons learned from 2021 CPS Research Symposium
By Ray Xiong
Food Safety Data Intern
July 22, 2021
The annual Center for Produce Safety (CPS) Research Symposium was held virtually in June and July of 2021 as a series of five webinars. This research symposium brought together a wide variety of audiences from across the globe, including , growers, packers, retailers, academics, government agencies, and trade associations.
1. Use aluminum barriers to protect crops from frogs
One problem some farm managers may face is limiting amphibians, especially frogs, in the field. CPS-funded researchers have evaluated different materials and recommend aluminum barriers to redirect these animals to protect their farm crops as well as the ecosystem. A key takeaway from these studies is that you should evaluate the location of the amphibian habitats in your field and assess their activities and behaviors to make mitigation plans.
2. Apply time-temperature predictive models to understand the impact of temperature fluctuation
Any temperature fluctuation, whether it is the cooling stage in your cooler, loading your products onto the truck, or transportation in some routes during a hot summer, can impact the quality and safety of your products. Time-temperature predictive models for Listeria monocytogenes growth can be used to help a business handle temperature-abused products. A quick reference time-temperature table was developed from this CPS-funded research, and it was noted that it could help you determine the risks associated with the safety and quality of your products along the food supply chain, from field to packinghouses, processing facilities, transportation, distribution centers, all the way to retail. To correctly record these temperature fluctuations and address the potential safety and quality problems associated with temperature abuse, it is critical to have a real-time digital solution across the supply chain to help you make informed, science-based decisions.
3. Implement a robust environmental monitoring program to minimize pathogen risk
As the foundation of all food safety programs, environmental monitoring is essential to understanding potential pathogen distribution in your facility and cross-contamination risks. Proper implementation of environmental monitoring programs can help address or prevent the persistence of pathogens, like L. monocytogenes. Recent publications from several CPS-funded research groups provided information on where pathogens are most likely to be present and persistent, what the risk factors are, and what intervention strategies you can implement. Sharing this knowledge with your food safety and clean/sanitation teams can improve the safety and quality of your products.
4. Verify the effectiveness of your sanitizer system
CPS has funded extensive research on sanitizer effectiveness in flume and wash water. If you use sanitizers in your facilities, you should know that the effectiveness of most sanitizers is subject to pH changes and organic matter accumulation. To make the most of your sanitizers, control the pH in your single-pass or recirculated systems. More importantly, validate and verify your system to make sure it works.
In the second part of the webinar, three CPS-funded researchers presented their most up-to-date findings and provided the industry with new approaches to improve food safety practices in their business:
1) Understand the limitations of in-field product sampling and change your sampling size and sampling pattern
If you have performed field produce sampling before, you may have noticed that your preharvest tests rarely come back positive for pathogens. Negative results could be due to ineffective sampling schemes.
Dr. Stasiewicz from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign shared his research on simulation analysis of risk-based produce sampling plan in field. In this study, the Stasiewicz group used computer simulations to reproduce current sampling plans in four produce growing regions in the US (CA, AZ, NY, VA). It evaluated the effectiveness of these sampling plans. According to their research, it is easier to detect large-scale and systematic contaminations like contaminated irrigation water or improperly composted manure than point sources or sporadic contaminations, like animal intrusions or bird droppings. An increase in the sampling size will likely increase the chance to detect systematic contamination.
It is also essential to know that the current industry sampling patterns (K-step or stratified plans) do not perform as well as random sampling plans.
Lastly, it is important to keep in mind the limitations of in-field product sampling. Broad application of this type of product sampling may be useful for surveillance and prevention of widespread contamination events. But since low-level and sporadic contaminations are unlikely to be detected, negative results for in-field product sampling should not imply the absence of pathogens.
2) Closely monitor and track multiple dimensions of your produce wash systems
If you keep up with the research related to the fresh produce industry, you may have heard of viable but nonculturable (VBNC) cells. But should you be concerned about these cells?
Dr. Anna Allende shared her research on inducing E. coli O157:H7 and L. monocytogenes VBNC cells in process wash water with sub-lethal doses of sanitizers. The induction of VBNC cells depends on the type and dose of sanitizers. These cells were able to attach to fresh produce and survive under 7 °C for 15 days. The resuscitation of VBNC cells was observed in around 20% of the trials. Overall, under storage conditions of 7 °C for 15 days, the probability of the resuscitation of VBNC cells in fresh produce is low. However, more research is needed to evaluate the safety risk under temperature-abusive conditions.
So, what’s the lesson here for your business? If you use produce wash systems, keep in mind that you should always closely monitor the concentration of your sanitizer, the contact time, and the physiochemical parameters of wash water, including pH, chemical oxygen demand (COD), solids, etc.
Explore digital food safety solutions from iFoodDS to help you keep your food safety records real-time, smart, and transparent.
3) Apply chemical coatings to improve sanitation efficiency and prevent biofilm formation
Dr. Boce Zhang from the University of Massachusetts presented his research on the prevention of listeria biofilm formation on non-fouling food contact surfaces. Dr. Zhang’s research evaluated the effects of physical/topographical modifications and chemical coatings to prevent biofilm formation of L. monocytogenes on food contact surfaces.
The results showed that a specific chemical coating works best against L. monocytogenes biofilm on different food contact surfaces. Dr. Zhang also found that this chemical coating and topographical modification can improve sanitation efficiency.
If you are looking for ways to improve your equipment, especially on hard-to-access areas and high-risk parts, you could apply this coating to your legacy equipment or pre-coat your new equipment. However, Dr. Zhang emphasized that this method is an additional layer of protection against biofilm formation, but it is not a substitute for proper cleaning, sanitation, and environmental monitoring programs. Most importantly, keep your EMP up to date and perform proper cleaning and sanitation to keep your equipment and facility safe from pathogens.
Here at iFoodDS, we believe that scientific research is a critical way to help continuously advance food safety improvements in the produce industry. We are a proud sponsor of CPS research and studies. Read more here on how iFoodDS supports the critical research funded by CPS.