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Chlorine dioxide pouches make produce safer

Two Florida companies are working to develop a small plastic pouch designed to make produce safer. The pouch releases chlorine dioxide gas, which eliminates E. coli bacteria and other pathogens from the surfaces of fruits and vegetables.

newspaperThe pouches are about half the size of a credit card and can be packed into shipping containers. Manufacturer Worrell Water Technologies of Delray Beach, Fla., hopes to market them to wholesalers and packers of produce in the United States and overseas.

Plant pathologist Dr. Jinhe Bai and his colleagues at Agricultural Research Scientists in Fort Pierce, Fla., worked with Worrell to develop the pouch.

At least 25 percent of fruits and vegetables produced worldwide are lost after harvest because of spoilage from microbial contamination, according to Bai. And E. coli and other pathogens on the surface of produce can cause illness if the produce isn’t well washed or cooked.

As a preventive measure, sanitizers often are used to kill microbes on produce. U.S. food processors add chlorine to wash water. In Europe, chlorine dioxide sometimes is pumped into storage rooms to sanitize produce.

“The chlorine dioxide pouches are a fine example of how agricultural technology is being developed to benefit consumers,” explained Tony Banks, a commodity marketing specialist for Virginia Farm Bureau Federation. “Once they are in use within the food chain, consumers can expect produce to have a longer shelf life because bacteria-related spoilage will be reduced. Food waste stands to be reduced as well.”

While the pouches will destroy most bacteria, consumers will still need to properly store and wash their produce to protect themselves from any remaining pathogens, Banks added.

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