Researchers led by Jinru Chen, Ph.D., with the University of Georgia, are using an anonymous survey to better understand the current cleaning and sanitation methods used on blueberry harvest containers and machine harvesters.
Based on the survey results and with the help of a blueberry industry advisory board, the researchers hope to identify cleaning and sanitizing practices that can be further validated in the field and in a laboratory setting.
Chen said the results of the project, “Evaluating food safety challenges of blueberry harvesting”, should have widespread applications. “Harvest containers and machine harvesters are not only used for harvesting blueberries but other fresh produce as well,” she said. “The information will help growers and packers improve their cleaning and sanitation practices and produce safe fruits for the fresh market.”
Chen is joined by Renee Holland, a UGA area extension agent for commercial blueberries, and Wei Qiang Yang, Ph.D., a district berry Extension agent with Oregon State University. “Both Wei and Renee are blueberry Extension agents, and they have close contact with blueberry growers,” Chen said. “They have built strong trust with local growers, and their roles in the project are extremely important.”
The researchers are currently in the middle of the in-person and online survey. The survey asks growers about their production scales, harvesting methods and cleaning and sanitation practices for harvest containers and mechanical harvesters.
After completing the survey and receiving advisory board input, the researchers plan to mimic the key cleaning and sanitation practices in the laboratory and determine the efficacy of the practices in removing microbial buildup and biofilm on materials used to manufacture harvest containers and mechanical harvesters.
This research is funded in part by the Center for Produce Safety, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. CPS is a collaborative partnership that leverages the combined expertise of industry, government and the scientific and academic communities to focus on providing research needed to continually enhance food safety. This level of collaboration allows CPS to fill the knowledge gaps on produce food safety and address both research priorities and immediate industry needs.
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