WASHINGTON — Effective May 24, Fresh Express pre-packaged salads were being sold nationwide with a new produce wash, Fresh Rinse, which Chiquita Brands International/Fresh Express said is 1 million times more effective than chlorine in wiping out E. coli O157:H7 and Salmonella.
The patent-pending Fresh Rinse had undergone laboratory and real-world tests for more than four years before the company began converting Fresh Express plants to use the new breakthrough produce wash, Mike Burness, head of global food safety and quality for Fresh Express, said during a May 23 call with The Produce News.
Fresh Rinse is a non-chlorine wash made from a Generally Recognized as Safe ingredient and an FDA-approved ingredient that may be used on products that are labeled as organic. The company claimed that the rinse results in more than a 7-log reduction (99.99999 percent) of E. coli O157:H7 and Salmonella in suspended cell tests. The log reduction on E. coli O157:H7 and Salmonella that was attached on leafy produce was between 2.76 and 4.20 logs (99.8 percent to 99.994 percent), at least 14 times better than that of traditional chlorine wash water, according to the company’s fact sheet.
Fresh Express, which sells 60 varieties of pre-packaged salads, said that the new product will please consumers, who are driven by taste as well as concerns for safe food, especially after the 2006 E. coli outbreak attributed to fresh spinach.
“Our focus is to produce fresh, delicious-tasting salads,” said Bob Stallman, general manager of retail salads, who pointed to the fact that the wash results in a better-quality product.
Mr. Stallman said that the company is launching a national campaign that will focus on the high-quality, fresh-tasting product and the new Fresh Rinse food-safety wash. The public relations rollout involves television and print advertisements, as well as digital media, that aim to reach consumers to familiarize them with the new logo. Mr. Stallman said that the company has been educating retailers about the product and offering tours of its plants.
The cost of the technology amounts to less than a penny per bag, Mr. Burness said.
The company has employed heavy hitters in the food-safety field to guide research and regulatory review.
David Acheson, a former food-safety official with the Food & Drug Administration and the current managing director of food and import safety at Leavitt Partners, said that he was skeptical that a produce wash could reduce E. coli 1 millionfold in suspended cells, but he said that Fresh Rinse can indeed do it.
It is difficult through plant testing to find contamination from random events, such as excrement from flying birds, but Fresh Rinse offers an important step in reducing risk, coupled with controls on the farm, Dr. Acheson said.
The ongoing adherence to Good Agricultural Practices and Good Manufacturing Practices are critical steps when layered over the new wash, explained Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research & Policy, who has been working with Fresh Express for 11 years to develop a safer product.
“Becoming a grower [for Fresh Express] is no easy task,” he said, referring to the company’s high standards.
Dr. Osterholm compared the latest food-safety advance to finding a whole new class of antibiotics in the field of infectious disease.
“I would like to see the whole industry adopt this,” he said, adding that Fresh Express is already using it every day.
The company plans to make the product available to the industry through licensing. The licensing details are still being finalized, and it may take until the end of the year to complete them, Mr. Burness said.
More data on FreshRinse will be released when the company publishes two peer-reviewed research articles in the Journal for Food Protection.