Monday, December 5, 2011


Episodes of contamination of fresh produce with bacterial pathogens and the attending adverse consequences are becoming increasingly common in many wealthy countries and the impact of such incidences of contamination is more with people in these countries because of two reasons. First the immunity level of the population to several pathogenic bacteria encountered in foods is relatively low, making them easily susceptible to their effect on health. Second the habit of consuming fresh produce like lettuce, broccoli, tomato etc in salad preparations is a part of their food culture making them highly vulnerable to food poisoning more frequently from these sources. It is against such a background one has to appreciate the action taken recently in the US to launch a public-private research initiative worth about $ 10 million to evolve technologies which can pre-empt such risks in consuming salad vegetables produced in different regions. 

"To fund the study, the U.S. Department of Agriculture is providing a $5.4 million, three-year grant and produce industry partners are kicking in nearly $4 million in in-kind support. The University of Maryland will be working with Ohio State University, Rutgers University, University of California, Davis; University of Florida, University of Delaware, USDA and the FDA. In its news release, UMD said agriculture producers are already testing for pathogens in irrigation water, fertilizers and other soil amendments, as well as in produce just before and after harvesting. Some 200,000 separate tests will be analyzed by the researchers. The team will conduct a series of controlled experiments by region to gauge how various practices affect levels of pathogens. "Producers, processors and consumers must be assured that the good practice standards apply to their region - that what works on a big farm in California, makes sense on a couple dozen acres on the East Coast," Buchanan said. "No group's protocol will be approved and enforced without scientific validation," Buchanan added. "The science must be solid enough to withstand domestic legal challenges and international trading disputes." He emphasized: "Guidelines, standards and regulations need to be based on solid science or we'll end up with legal wrangling rather than safer salads."

The collaborative project will have far reaching implications because whatever remedial measures are developed, they will have much better chance of getting accepted by the user industry with least reservation. The industry has been using certain techniques to ensure pathogen-free salads and these also will be subject to validation independently to confirm or modify such practices. Though some industry has been pleading to allow irradiation for pasteurizing fresh meat, clearance was not forthcoming from the authorities concerned due to apprehension that the processors may pass of low quality food products after irradiation as prime quality ones, defrauding the consumer. Many countries have a lesson to learn from the above project which only can solve common industry safety problems affecting the society at large. This mode also effectively utilizes the tremendous knowledge that is bottled up in the universities for the good of the nation.


No comments: