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Salinas Produce Firm Unveils New Food Safety Rules as Scientists Search for Way to Eliminate E.coli



According to company officials, the new guidelines include several major changes, including crop setback distances, crop procedures in flood-prone areas and the use of certified compost. The new rules, presented to several dozen growers that contract with Tanimura & Antle, also call for changes in water-quality testing and pre-planting ranch assessments, the officials were quoted as saying by the newspaper.

The company unveiled its new rules in advance of a state-supervised food-safety program being proposed by several industry groups. Some growers feared the move may create a maze of rules for local growers to deal with.

While industry groups negotiating high profile standards, Tanimura & Antle has become the first major produce company to devise new safety rules.

John Baillie of Tri-Counties Packing was quoted as saying that Tanimura & Antle's new guidelines are "a little more rigid" than previous rules and, most likely, are what major buyers are asking shippers to put into practice. Baillie said he hoped the move wouldn't lead to a lot of different rules being established by different shippers.

Other sources said the new Tanimura & Antle guidelines are intended to dovetail with an industry proposal being advanced by the Western Growers Association that calls for mandatory food-safety inspections overseen by state agricultural officials.

The grower discounted the possibility that major produce buyers would impose a confusing set of different rules.

Meanwhile, University of Illinois scientists Scott Martin and Hao Feng, realizing that no one weapon in the food-safety cache will eliminate E. coli, are busy every day working on different ways to fight the potentially deadly pathogen. Their work is being funded by the Illinois Council on Food and Agricultural Research (C-FAR) and the Illinois Agricultural Experiment Station.

The Rock River Times reported that the two food science professors work with ozone, high-intensity ultrasound, electrolyzed water, irradiation, and temperature. They explained no treatment alone can reduce the number of pathogens sufficiently to meet the standards set by the FDA.

"We don't believe there's any one technique out there that's going to be effective," said Martin. "We're constantly trying different combinations to achieve the 5-log (99.999 percent) reduction in the number of organisms required by the FDA."

Both scientists, whose works have appeared in the Journal of Food Science and Journal of Food Safety, believe they're getting closer to a solution.

"With ultrasound, we can actually damage the pathogen's cells to the point that they can't be repaired. Ultrasound is a complicated technology, and we're still trying to learn how to use it effectively. But this technology causes physical damage—ruptures in the pathogen's cells—and that's important," said Feng.

In Martin's lab, a graduate student has eliminated all Listeria monocytogenes on a stainless steel chip in 30 seconds, using a combination of ultrasound and ozone. This extremely positive result has promising implications for the sanitation of processing equipment, the scientist said. Martin said the scientists have reduced the length of time it takes to reach the FDA's 5-log reduction standard to 30 seconds, which may still be too long for industry.

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