New grants allow for produce safety research and consumer education

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New grants allow for produce safety research and consumer education

Two grants were awarded to Fresno State’s Food Science and Nutrition Department for produce safety research and consumer education, the Jordan College of Agricultural Sciences and Technology announced.

Made possible by a $100,000 grant from the Center for Produce Safety, Dr. Steven Pao, department chair, and Dr. Erin Dormedy will oversee a one-year study to evaluate and improve sanitizing treatments in stone fruit packinghouses. The study will begin this month and will be conducted in partnership with the California Fresh Fruit Association and area stone fruit producers.

“This is an exciting and innovative opportunity to work with the fruit industry,” Pao said. “The Central Valley is the leading producer for stone fruit nationally, and our research facilities and faculty can study and help implement new sanitizing technologies. Utilizing our faculty, students and food science laboratory to develop novel food safety methods reflects our college’s emphasis to be a leader in agricultural research.”

The research aims to determine natural microbial levels on contact surfaces in the sorting and handling process. It will also evaluate potential pathogens and their growth on surfaces in different temperature and humidity conditions, and the effectiveness of cleaning treatments.

Pathogens will be measured on sorting and sizing machinery to develop new methods for sanitizing the equipment on-site during the production process. Carriers and equipment are currently sanitized using time-consuming methods that require disassembly and cleaning in other locations.

Microbial samples will be tested by Fresno State staff and students at the campus food microbiology laboratory.

Study results will be reported through industry meetings, workshops, publications and technical journals.

The grant was awarded after Pao and Dormedy conducted a preliminary study in 2015 of surface microbial levels of peaches taken from packing lines in area stone fruit packinghouses.

They have also worked on a related study that used hot water immersion to decontaminate surface Salmonella on mangoes and was funded by Citrofrut S.A. de C.V. (Monterrey, Mexico). The study is nearly complete, and results will be presented at the Institute of Food Technologists in July in Chicago.

Dr. Lisa Herzig, a food science and nutrition professor, also received a $5,000, six-month grant from the Produce for Better Health Foundation for its Grocery Store Tour public education program that fosters collaboration with university nutrition programs.

The program trains nutrition and dietetic students to host grocery store tours for college students and the community to share fruit and vegetable nutrition information and answer consumer questions.

An experienced supermarket dietitian will train Fresno State students about corporate marketing and private label products, lead a grocery store tour and teach them about consumer misperceptions about fruit and vegetables.