view current print edition




Leafy green competitors tout new washes that promise better performance

by Tim Linden | October 25, 2010
ORLANDO, FL — Two California competitors in the leafy green business came to the Produce Marketing Association Fresh Summit convention, here, to push the new washes they are using to clean their fresh-cut products and reduce, if not eliminate, the risk of pathogens in that part of the process.

But far from claiming a competitive edge and marketing their new washes as superior, both companies are making their respective products available to the rest of the industry in an effort to improve the safety of the industry.

In a clear tribute to the "we are all in this together" philosophy, each firm's representatives pushed the properties of their own item without downgrading the other. In fact, both firms claim that their product is much better than the industry standard of chlorine, but neither has pitted one against the other.

Of the two new washes, SmartWash has been on the market longer, and in fact, is currently being used on all the production at Taylor Farms.

New Leaf Food Safety Solutions, which developed and sells the product, is a subsidiary of Taylor Farms. Tanya Mason, vice president of business development for New Leaf, said that the new product is the result of three years of research and is a chlorine-based product.

Ms. Mason said that the compounds being used — all of which are food-grade products on the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Generally Recognized as Safe ingredient list, preserve the chlorine in the chlorine wash.

She explained that chlorine in any wash gets depleted as it is exposed to organic matter. What that means is that after a relatively short period of time, more chlorine has to be added to keep the wash effective.

Ms. Mason said that this constant fluctuation of the chlorine efficacy is a critical control point and can lead to cross contamination. “SmartWash completely eliminates the risk of cross contamination,” she said.

Of course, it is possible that a single piece of a leafy green might have a pathogen, but she said that by using SmartWash, that pathogen will not spread in the wash solution to other product being washed. Under testing — and current use of the product — Ms. Mason said that the percentage of cross-contaminated samples in the 10 parts-per-million chlorine solution with SmartWash has been zero compared to 13 percent with a 10 ppm chlorine solution and 63 percent with 0 ppm chlorine solution.

“SmartWash is in commercial use on more than 90 million servings per week” of leafy greens and other vegetables, she said, adding that the solution has a low pH, which is better for the ultimate quality of the produce item.

Patricia Millner, a research microbiologist with the USDA in Beltsville, MD, took part in the interview and confirmed Ms. Mason’s claims, saying that USDA has tested the product and found it to be very effective.

Besides using SmartWash in its own facilities, Ms. Mason said that New Leaf is monitoring ongoing trials with other processors that are currently testing the items for themselves.

“We want to make it available to everyone,” she said, adding that the cost will be very similar to that of chlorine.

During the first day of the convention, Chiquita’s Fresh Express announced what it called a “scientific breakthrough” in the leafy greens washing business.

Later during the show, Michael Burness, vice president of global quality and food safety for Chiquita Brands, sat down with The Produce News and explained the process.

He said that the new solution uses two organic compounds that are on the USDA’s GRAS list to reduce greatly the risk of pathogen contamination and “raise the bar on food safety.”

Mr. Burness said that testing has shown that the non-chlorine-based FreshRinse outperforms chlorine by a factor as high as 1 million times with some pathogens.

He said that FreshRinse, which he called lactic-acid-based, was tested under commercial conditions, during which cells with E. coli, Salmonella and Listeria were added to the wash and the leaves of leafy greens. Mr. Burness said that FreshRinse outperformed chlorine on these three pathogens by a factor of nine times or more.

The Chiquita executive was quick to add that there is nothing wrong with chlorine, which has been the industry wash standard for many years. Mr. Burness said that the company did not set out to find a non-chlorine- based wash but believes it has found one that is superior to chlorine.

He added that this is not a new compound, so it does not need Food & Drug Administration approval to be used as a wash; he also said that it results in improved quality in the product itself.

Mr. Burness said that Chiquita is currently concentrating on retrofitting its own facilities with the FreshRinse product, but by the end of the year, it will be commercially available to other processors. He said that the product is “a little bit more expensive” than simple chlorine, but cost will not be a barrier, as it will pencil out to about one penny per bag.