PHHI Scientists, FDA Partner on New Standards for Salmonella-free Tomatoes

Written by: Jennifer Woodford, N.C. Research Campus

From the fields and waterways of three North Carolina research farms, new guidelines for growing, harvesting, packing and shipping tomatoes free of contaminates like Salmonella are taking root.

Scientists with the N.C. State University Plants for Human Health Institute and its N.C. Cooperative Extension outreach component, located at the N.C. Research Campus in Kannapolis, are collaborating with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration on a joint project to establish new standards to prevent Salmonella contamination of tomatoes.

A team of scientists from the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the N.C. State University Plants for Human Health Institute (PHHI) are working on a joint, three-year project that started in June 2012 entitled, Environmental Sample Collections on Research Extension Station Tomato Farms Located in North Carolina.

The goal of the project is to establish “science-based standards for growing, harvesting, packing and holding produce on domestic and foreign farms,” which is one of the main goals for all fresh produce in the 2011 Food Safety Modernization Act.

“We are looking at some postharvest handling and postharvest water with tomatoes,” said Diane Ducharme, Good Agricultural Practices (GAPs) program coordinator and extension associate in horticulture and food safety with PHHI. “We are looking at how, within the food system, microbes might actually contact the surface of tomatoes and be incorporated into the plant, and (we are looking at) mechanisms for remediation.”

Ducharme is working alongside Dr. Penelope Perkins-Veazie, PHHI postharvest physiologist and professor, on the project as part of her doctoral work.

The first environmental samples taken from three N.C. research stations in the study supported previous research findings that pinpoint water used for irrigation as a source of contamination. The study is following tomatoes from the fields to the distribution houses where they are washed and packed for shipping.

By the end of the three-year project, Ducharme and Perkins-Veazie predict that the North Carolina data coupled with similar data from Florida will be combined for an East Coast database and genome map of Salmonella.

View the full story on the N.C. Research Campus website.