Community Research and Development Information Service - CORDIS

FP7

SAFE-BAG Report Summary

Project reference: 285820
Funded under: FP7-SME
Country: Spain

Periodic Report Summary - SAFE-BAG (Novel continuous in-pack decontamination system for fresh produce)

Project context and objectives:

The EU-27 fruit and vegetable processing and supply chains represent a major pillar of the European food and drink industry. While fresh fruit and vegetable consumption is linked to a plethora of health benefits, it can also be a source of foodborne illnesses. It is critical that effective decontamination steps are in place to ensure consumer protection and confidence in fresh produce. The use of chlorine as a sanitising agent in the washing of fresh-cut produce is widespread in the fresh produce industry. However, this method is neither environmentally friendly, nor is it in line with growing consumer demand for chemical free processes. There is indeed a need to provide fresh cut fruit and vegetables packers with an affordable, safe and effective method of offering microbiological safety assurance, while at the same time increasing shelf life and retention of nutritional quality.

The SAFE-BAG project will develop a novel continuous in-pack decontamination system for fresh-cut produce. Preliminary research conducted by Dublin Institute of Technology indicates that in-pack non-thermal plasma (an energetic ionised gas) can significantly reduce the microbial load of fresh fruits and vegetables. SAFE-BAG will advance this knowledge by carrying out further research to maximise potential benefits of this technology. A plasma-based pre-competitive prototype will be designed and built, and its effectiveness for decontaminating fresh bagged fruits and vegetables will be validated in industry. The developers of SAFE-BAG are committed to making this system affordable, robust and easy to maintain. Achieving this will make the technology accessible to European fresh-cut SMEs, whereby they will benefit from being able to differentiate their products and market them as a value added commodity. The impact of the results hold benefits for consumer safety and confidence, extended shelf-life and increased demand for fresh produce, which will in turn impact on the competitiveness of hundreds of European fresh-cut processing SMEs.

Project results:

The project started by understanding the technological and market needs of the European fresh-cut F&V industry, as well as perceptions in terms of product quality and safety. To this end, a comprehensive questionnaire directed to producers as well as equipmemt manufacturers was drafted and used as a base for direct in-depth industry consultations. Some of these consultations were made via field visits to industrial premises, whereas others were made via phone interviews. In total, 20 in-depth consultations (6 field visits and 14 phone interviews) were made to fresh and fresh-cut F&V industries in Spain, Ireland, Slovenia, Austria, Czech Republic, United Kingdom and Turkey.

In parallel to the consultations, a comprehensive literature, patent and legislation review was carried out, in order to update the state-of-the-art in terms of disinfection and plasma technologies and to identify relevant patents and legislation that had to be considered for the definition of the specifications of the system. The procedures involved in ensuring that the SAFE-BAG technology complies with EFSA's novel technology regulations were analysed and reported. As a result of the information gathered in WP1, and in line with preliminary results obtained in the lab, the overall system specifications and performance characteristics of the SAFE-BAG system have been defined. The overall and individual component specifications will be key to the design of the industrial prototype.

In parallel to the previous work package, WP2 started by designing and building two modular based cold atmospheric plasma (CAP) test rigs (including voltage transducers of 60 and 120 kV) needed to perform laboratory analysis planned in WP2 and 3. In order to determine the microbial inactivation capacity of the designed CAP systems, critical control parameters such as voltage level, type of gas, mode of exposure, treatment time, relative humidity as well as post-treatment storage time have been investigated in both test rigs and optimised. Additionally, the effect of optimised CAP parameters on bacterial cell surface structure, cell integrity and DNA damage have been studied.

The physical discharge and the induced plasma chemistry produced by CAP have been characterised, was characterised using electrical methods (charge-voltage measurements) and emission or photo-absorption spectroscopy, respectively. The obtained data and correlation of the plasma discharge characteristics with anti-microbial efficacy has enabled the identification of reactive species key to bacterial inactivation.

The previously optimised control parameters have been examined for inactivation of microorganisms on fresh produce surfaces, as well as for changes of the quality of treated products and changes in the packaging polymer film´s surface and bulk properties.

Based on results obtained in WP2 and WP3, the main design and control recoomendations have been made for scale up, including voltage, electrode design and gao, frequency and dielectric materials. It has been decided that the DIT 120 kV system will be employed as the basis of the precompetitive prototype to be built by IRIS in WP4, given its high voltage output, control features and duty cycle, facilitating large gaps to be treated under continuous operation.

Preliminary designs of the pre-competitive SAFE-BAG prototype already exist. The SAFE-BAG Consortium has decided to adopt a positive pressure non-atmospheric treatment approach for the SAFE-BAG technology. The consortium will decide upon a final prototype design shortly and prototype building will begin.

Potential impact:

The SAFE-BAG project will develop a novel continuous in-pack decontamination system for fresh-cut produce, which will be based on plasma technology. It is expected that the system will be affordable, robust and easy to maintain.

The end-users of the technology will be able to differentiate their products and gain competitive advantage, through the following:

- Increased safety profiles of fresh produce:
In recent years there has been growing concern over the presence of foodborne pathogens in bagged salads. Access to an in-pack technology that will ensure a substantial reduction in microorganisms will add significant value to their product offering.

- The enhancement of microbiological and organoleptic quality parameters by comparison with current processing protocols will lead to shelf-life extension:
The major obstacle of purchasing ready-to-eat fresh-cut fruits and vegetables is their short shelf-life, leading to quick degeneration and decomposition of the product and undesirable look and negative palatability.

- Reduced water usage:
Fresh produce washing is a major consumer of potable water, and water-pricing policies with incentives for efficient water use are being implemented under EU's Water Framework Directive. A dry preservation technology will allow a considerable reduction in water as well as wastewater generation.

- Replacement of chlorine:
There is a need to eliminate / reduce chlorine from the disinfection process because of its effectiveness and the concerns for the environment, as well as health risks.

By having access to a technology such as SAFE-BAG, fresh-cut fruit and vegetable suppliers will be equipped to provide products that deliver on safety, taste and freshness. This will result in an increased confidence in ready-to fresh-produce by the consumers, which will in turn impact on the competitiveness of hundreds of European fresh-cut processing SMEs.

Project website: http://www.safebag-fp7.eu

Related information

Contact

DIGBY, Colm (General Manager)
Tel.: +34-935-542500
Fax: +34-935-542500
Record Number: 62298 / Last updated on: 2014-03-21
Information source: SESAM
Collaboration sought: N/A