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Press release | Food safety and quality all wrapped up

Wednesday, 19 September 2012 at 4:14:PM

Cardiff University logoMarkes International (Llantrisant, UK) has teamed-up with Cardiff University (Wales,UK) and 12 partner organisations from across Europe to undertake a pioneering research project which is set to improve the safety and quality of pre-packed fruit and vegetables.

The €4m ‘QUAFETY’ initiative, which is co-funded by the European Commission through the 7th Framework Program, aims to improve the safety and quality of ready-to-eat fresh produce by working with the industry to develop new predictive and probabilistic models and decision making tools.

Researchers, including a team from Cardiff University’s School of Biosciences, will also explore rapid and non-destructive methods for quality evaluation and prediction in order to quantify and manage spoilage and pathogenic micro-organisms, with the aim of minimising food safety risks to consumers.

One of the work packages in the project is the development of new diagnostic kits for the evaluation of microbial contamination and shelf-life determination; these tools will aid industry operators with their decision-making at critical points in the fresh-cut food supply chain.

To achieve this, Markes’ thermal desorption technology, including the Easy-VOC grab sampler and the TD-100 automated thermal desorber, will be used on-site by industry operators as part of their routine quality- analysis process. The technology will also be used to monitor the extensive range of volatile organic chemicals (VOCs) emitted by fruit and vegetables at different stages during the supply chain.

During the test phase, the researchers will focus on monitoring volatiles released by melons, rocket, and pre-packed fruit salads.

Markes’ mass spectrometry division, ALMSCO International, is also playing a key role in the project, with its time-of-flight mass spectrometer, BenchTOF-dx, being used by Cardiff University partners to search for compounds. Commenting further, Dr Carsten Muller, from Cardiff University’s School of Biosciences, said: “We need a system that can go down to parts per trillion to look for trace levels of compounds. Ultimately, better sensitivity will detect more compounds with better spectra for improved discrimination.”

“During the initial stages of this project, rather than using it to follow specific compounds, we’ll be looking for as many compounds as we can possibly see; we’ll be looking at the bouquet of compounds and identifying important biological shifts,” he added.

Markes is a full partner in the project and experts from both Markes and ALMSCO will be on-hand throughout the project to provide specialist support, advice and training to the research teams.

Commenting on the importance of the research, Dr Muller said: “At the moment there are no objective criteria for determining the safety and quality of fruit and vegetables. People working in the industry estimate shelf-life simply by judging the appearance of the product. Whilst appearance is related to quality it is does not necessarily indicate the presence of pathogenic micro-organisms.”

“Through the QUAFETY initiative, we’ll be able to develop unique tools and processes to help the industry to make informed decisions about the safety and quality of their products,” he added.

Researchers are hoping that the data captured will help the industry to predict particular issues that affect specific fruit and vegetables. Commenting on this, Dr Hilary Rogers, leading the research at Cardiff University’s School of Biosciences, said: “We’ll be looking closely at how we can identify patterns from the volatiles emitted by ready-to-eat fresh-cut fruit and vegetables. To do this, we’ll sample the products every few days, starting from when they are just out of the field, right the way through to the point where they are beyond sales.”

“Thermal desorption techniques will enable us to identify patterns that are associated with compounds that are coming up later in a lifetime of a product. If we identify markers associated with the presence of more micro-organisms than would be expected, it’s important that the industry and packagers know about it.

“Developing predictive and probabilistic models is essential because it will enable the industry to make decisions that will improve food-safety, increase shelf-life and reduce food-wastage,” she added.

The three-year project, which is being coordinated by Professor Giancarlo Colelli at the University of Foggia, Italy, will involve operators from within the supply chain, including growers and packagers.

The project will also provide scientific evidence to the EC and other health authorities in order to evaluate whether further regulation is required in this area of food safety.

The partners, which include six universities, six SMEs and two research and development institutions, are Markes International (UK), Cardiff University (UK), The University of Foggia (Italy), The University of Milano (Italy), Fresh Plaza (Netherlands), Portuguese Catholic University (Portugal), The Agricultural University of Athens (Greece), London Metropolitan University (UK), ARO-The Volcani Centre (Israel), EINAT Food Industries (Israel), 80g (Portugal), Agronomia (Italy), Instytut Ogrodnictwa (Poland), and D.A.Re. Puglia (Italy).

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