The challenge for the fresh-cut food industry is to reduce chlorine consumption and provide the same or better standard of fruit and vegetable cleanliness. Chlorine has been associated with the formation of carcinogenic chlorinated compounds in water. The minimally processed vegetable (MPV) industry would like to see less water consumption and wastewater discharge. With this in mind, the EU-funded SUSCLEAN (Sustainable cleaning and disinfection in fresh-cut food industries) project worked to develop new equipment and decontamination technology that is environmentally friendly while maintaining food safety standards. Sampling performed in MPV processing plants generated data on the microbial dynamics of spoilage organisms throughout the production chain. The data was used to identify key stages of contamination leading to the development of new cleaning and disinfection methods. Detection methods were developed enabling the industry to easily monitor spoilage, hygiene indicators and pathogens of equipment surfaces and products. Following literature review and analysis, several alternative chemical and physical sanitation and decontamination methods were assessed in lab experiments concerning their ability to replace chlorine and their applicability to MPV equipment and water. The team proposed the best available processing techniques, and evaluated their environmental benefits for reducing chlorine and water consumption. The findings are promising. Once developed and tested, the environmental impact of the new cleaning and disinfection strategies and processes was assessed through life-cycle analysis and in line with the Directive on integrated pollution prevention and control (IPPC). SUSCLEAN results will help improve the availability of MPVs. This will no doubt reduce illness from consumption of contaminated fresh produce and provide a competitive advantage to the European fruit and vegetable industry.
Sanitation, decontamination, chlorine, food safety, fresh-cut food, minimally processed vegetable