Previous incidents with pathogens in the fruit and vegetable chain, such as the Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli (STEC) strain outbreak in 2011, led to a loss of consumer confidence and economic losses in European horticulture. As the Netherlands is a major EU player in the cultivation and processing of fresh horticultural products, we must remain at the forefront in developing and executing innovation to ensure food safety.
With a paralleled need to develop sustainable water strategies, i.e. to develop a circular economy, we need to pay particular attention to food safety so as to not inversely impact the microbiological quality and safety of produce given our innovative endeavors. Currently, during primary production, irrigation water can be contaminated with microbial pathogens, depending on their source. Also, during processing, fresh produce may become contaminated; particularly, the water used is a critical point for potential microbial (cross-) contamination during produce washing. The possibility for reuse water can be economically advantageous for both primary producers and processing industry, but only if the microbiological safety is ensured.
During the production of leafy vegetables, water is used to irrigate the plants in the field, but also during processing to wash the produce prior to consumer sale. When this water is contaminated with pathogens, this may lead to contaminated products and ultimately to consumer health risks.
Within this project various disinfection methods and agents, such as peracitic acid, ozone, ultraviolet and membrane filtration will be investigated to determine which of these methods are most suitable for disinfecting irrigation and/or processing water. Investigating the possibility for reusing water will also be part of the project, thereby contributing to a circular economy. The project starts with a desk study on the feasibility of a number of potential methods, followed by lab testing of the most promising ones. Finally, field tests will be performed to determine the effectiveness and the practical applicability of the methods. The outcome of this project will help growers and processors to select the most optimal disinfection methods enabling safe and save water in their production process.