An estimated 437,000 incidences of produce-related foodborne illnesses occur each year in Massachusetts alone. In addition to morbidity and mortality, the estimated cost as a result of the illnesses is $903 million.
Postharvest sanitation, in particular washing/rinsing, is a critical step that has shown to control microbial loads, thereby reducing the risk of contamination from pathogens. Over time, sanitizers lose efficacy due to soiled water, chemical dissipation, pH changes, etc. While there are several commonly used wash/rinse water sanitizers, there remains significant opportunity to identify and validate best practices for farmers.
This project aims to increase the skills, productivity or safety practices of small-scale Massachusetts food producers or food processors. The long term goal is the reduction of produce-related foodborne illness. The project includes evaluation of current wash/rinse water sanitization practices of Massachusetts produce farmers and development of a guideline for best practices. To achieve this, we will assess and determine optimal quality controls to monitor sanitizers in rinse water. The identified controls will then be validated using a piloted farm site.
In addition, we will design a rapid test to validate rinse water sanitation, an easy to use test strip which will quantify the amount of pathogenic organisms in the produce rinse water. The test is designed to be inexpensive, easy to use, and compatible with use in a resource-limited setting.