NEWS: New Pouch Keeps Produce Safe – It’s a Gas!

19-07-2017

Agricultural Research Service (ARS) scientists in Florida, led by plant pathologist Jinhe Bai, are helping a company develop a small plastic pouch designed to make produce safer. The pouch releases chlorine dioxide gas, which eliminates Escherichia coli bacteria and other pathogens from the surfaces of fruits and vegetables. The research focuses on finding ways to reduce pathogen contamination of produce. 

Pouches are about half the size of a credit card and can be packed into shipping containers. The manufacturer, Worrell Water Technologies, also based in Florida, hopes to market them to wholesalers and packers of produce in the United States and overseas.

The pouch is a new product for Worrell, a company that markets water-purification technologies. In preliminary work researchers found that the chlorine dioxide gas could be released too quickly, which could cause chemical burns on the fruit. The pouch was redesigned with a semi-permeable membrane that vents the gas at a slower rate.

US food processors often add chlorine to the wash water. In Europe, chlorine dioxide is sometimes pumped into storage rooms to sanitize produce. But chlorine dioxide packaged in a proprietary plastic pouch for use by produce packing houses and wholesalers is a first, they claim.

When the pouches were placed into cartons of grapefruit using typical packing, shipping, and storage conditions, they found 10 times fewer bacterial and fungal pathogens than on grapefruit stored without pouches. A panel of ARS volunteers in Fort Pierce found that the treatments didn’t change the appearance or taste of the grapefruit. Other laboratory tests showed a 100,000-fold reduction in E. coli levels in inoculated grape tomatoes stored with the pouches. Further studies are needed to assess the pouches effectiveness on other specific fruits and vegetables.

The pouches cost a few cents and only one to three are needed per crate or carton. Bai collaborated with Worrell under a cooperative research and development agreement. The company anticipates federal regulatory approval for their use in the near future.