ATLANTA, GA — The Center for Produce Safety (CPS) spent a session of their two-day event to delve into the latest developments in ongoing CPS funded research. The symposium gave insights into the future of food safety and the current research being pursued.

Round-up of research in progress:

  • Quantifying risk associated with changes in EHEC physiology during post-harvest pre-processing stages of leafy green production. Teresa Bergholz, Michigan State University
  • Microbial characterization of irrigation waters using rapid, inexpensive, and portable next generation sequencing technologies. Kerry Cooper, The University of Arizona
    • Researchers at The University of Arizona are investigating innovative microbial detection methods using next-generation sequencing (NGS) technologies. These approaches, including shotgun metagenomics, enable the rapid identification of bacterial, viral, fungal, and protozoan pathogens in irrigation water, soil, or food samples. By eliminating the need for multiple detection assays, these methods offer significant benefits to the produce industry. The study aims to validate two NGS technologies, Illumina iSeq100 and Oxford Nanopore MinION, by evaluating their benefits and limitations in pathogen detection. The research outcomes will provide guidelines for implementing these technologies in food safety surveillance programs.
  • Strategic approaches to mitigate Salmonella infection of bulb onions. Vijay Joshi, Texas A&M
  • Toward a holistic assessment of the food-safety risks imposed by wild birds. Daniel Karp, University of California, Davis
  • Cross-contamination risks in dry environments. Nitin Nitin, University of California, Davis
    • University of California-Davis scientists are focusing their research on the risks of cross-contamination in dry environments, particularly in the fresh produce industry. While existing knowledge and technologies have helped reduce cross-contamination during wet handling and processing, understanding the risk factors and developing tools for dry environments remain limited. The research project aims to identify surface conditions that promote microbial transfer, create a risk model for cross-contamination, and develop a novel sanitation technology using food-grade light-activated antimicrobials. By filling knowledge gaps and providing effective sanitation solutions, the study aims to enhance food safety in both conventional and organic fresh produce industries.
  • Assessing Romaine lettuce “Forward Processing” for potential impacts on EHEC growth, antimicrobial susceptibility, and infectivity. Xiangwu Nou, USDA, Agricultural Research Center
    • Scientists at the USDA’s Agricultural Research Center are conducting a comprehensive assessment of “forward processing” practices in the Romaine lettuce industry. Led by Xiangwu Nou, the study aims to evaluate the effects of forward processing on the growth of EHEC (enterohemorrhagic Escherichia coli) bacteria, their susceptibility to antimicrobial treatments, and infectivity. The research includes analyzing the microbiological quality of lettuce from harvest to retail, comparing forward and source processing, and assessing the impact of different practices on EHEC outbreak strains. The findings will be used to improve forward processing management in order to enhance product integrity and food safety.
  • AFECCT: Assessing filtration efficacy for Cyclospora control. Benjamin Rosenthal, USDA, Agricultural Research Service 
    • Scientists at the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service are conducting a study to evaluate the effectiveness of filtration in controlling Cyclospora, a parasite that can cause foodborne illness from contaminated fresh produce. Led by Benjamin Rosenthal, the research aims to determine how well filters remove Cyclospora from irrigation water and whether any surviving parasites are harmed in the process. The findings could provide valuable tools for growers to mitigate the risk of contamination and contribute to future research on interventions against this dangerous human parasite.
  • Practical application of superheated steam to harvesting, processing, and produce packing tools and equipment. Abigail Snyder, Cornell University
  • Cyclospora cayetanensis monitoring in agricultural water. Lia Stanciu-Gregory, Purdue University 
    • Researchers at Purdue University are working on a breakthrough detection method for Cyclospora cayetanensis, a parasite that causes illness in people who consume contaminated produce. Led by Lia Stanciu-Gregory, the team aims to design aptamers, molecules that can bind to intact Cyclospora oocysts. These aptamers will be used to create simple paper-based colorimetric tests that can detect the presence of the parasite in agricultural water, providing a cost-effective and field-deployable solution without the need for specialized laboratories or sample preparation. This development could greatly improve early detection and monitoring of Cyclospora in the food industry.
  • Validation study for the tree fruit industry: effective strategies to sanitize harvest bins and picking bags. Valentina Trinetta, Kansas State 
    • Kansas State University (KSU) and Washington State University (WSU) have joined forces to conduct a validation study aimed at enhancing cleaning and sanitation practices in the tree fruit industry. Led by Valentina Trinetta, the project will evaluate the effectiveness of commercially available sanitizers in controlling Listeria monocytogenes, Salmonella, and Escherichia coli on food contact surfaces encountered during harvesting. The study will then move on to validate selected sanitizers against surrogate microorganisms on harvesting bins and picking bags at commercial facilities in apple production areas across the United States. The findings will provide science-based recommendations to improve cleaning and sanitation practices, helping growers and packers manage food safety risks and enhance the competitiveness of tree fruit crops.
  • Assessing the potential for production practices to impact dry bulb onion safety. Joy Waite-Cusic, Oregon State University
  • Identification of routes and mechanisms for distribution and establishment of Listeria monocytogenes and Listeria spp. in avocado packing environments. Alejandro Castillo, Texas A&M AgriLife Research
    • Alejandro Castillo of Texas A&M AgriLife Research is leading a study to identify routes and mechanisms of Listeria monocytogenes and Listeria spp. distribution and establishment in avocado packing environments. The research focuses on potential contamination during postharvest processing at dry packing plants, where residual water can support cross-contamination. By employing DNA-based methods and surveying avocado packers, the team aims to develop effective sanitation practices and a model to predict contamination likelihood. The study will benefit food safety efforts and reduce the risk of foodborne illnesses.

About CPS
The Center for Produce Safety (CPS) is a 501(c)(3), U.S. tax-exempt, charitable organization focused exclusively on providing the produce industry and government with open access to the actionable information needed to continually enhance the safety of fresh produce.

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