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Produce and Leafy Greens – Disinfection Difficulties

We all know that a diet rich in produce and leafy greens is beneficial to weight loss, energy, and overall good health. Over the last 20 years, general acceptance of this fact has dramatically increased production and consumption of products like lettuce and spinach.

  • Worldwide production of spinach increased from 9.5 millions tons in year 2000 to almost 27 million in 2018
  • One European retail chain reported that the sales of ready-to-eat, prepacked salad mixes increased from 600,000 bags in 2005 to nearly 40 million bags in 2016.

Unfortunately, along with the health benefits society is enjoying, we have also seen a rising number of Foodborne Illness outbreaks associated with pathogens that thrive on leafy greens.

  • Consumption of minimally processed leafy greens has been known to cause outbreaks of food-borne illnesses through contamination with human pathogens, such as Escherichia coli 0157:H7, Listeria and Salmonella.
  • 29 Outbreaks related to leafy vegetables in Europe and North America between the years 2000 and 2016
    • 15 sickened more than 100 people
    • 5 lead to deaths

So why do leafy greens present such a challenge? It basically comes down to their neighbors, their structures, their surfaces, and their preparation.

Their Neighbors

Leafy greens are often grown near areas where livestock are being raised. This creates a likelihood of animal waste (and its associated bacteria) being introduced directly or through water run-off. Once these pathogens enter the field, the warm, most environments in which lettuce grows also helps the pathogens and spoilage organisms to flourish.

Their Structures

The delicate structures seen in leafy greens are easily damaged by farm equipment, weather, physical contact, or freezing temperatures. A damaged leaf or stem can quickly lead to dehydration. Unfortunately, the fluid being leaked is rich in the nutrients which bacteria on the leaves need to survive. Bacterial colonies can quickly multiply in such conditions. In addition to these “nutritional contributions”, damaged areas also create a gateway for bacteria to move from the surface into the interior of the produce making them even more difficult to destroy.

Their Surfaces

Although leafy greens may seem smooth and “waxy” to the touch, they actually have very rough/complex surfaces. These complex surfaces provide areas for bacteria and dirt to adhere and hide. Using an electron microscope we can see E. coli hidden away in a lettuce pore. A simple rinse or soak may do nothing to inactivate these pathogens.

Their Preparation

Leafy greens are often served raw. Dr. Al Baroudi, VP of Food Safety & Quality Assurance at The Cheesecake Factory is a nationally recognized expert and speaker in his field. He is frequently heard speaking about how difficult it is to ensure that the produce and leafy greens in salads are fresh, safe, and delicious. When it comes to pathogens such as E. coli, salmonella, and listeria, he says, “I can cook the chicken but I can’t cook the salad. For this reason, I need a kill step which is not dependent on high heat or unpleasant chemicals”.

For all of these reasons, the use of Quail Systems’ aqueous ozone combined with nanobubbles is the ideal way to disinfect and clean produce such as leafy greens. We use cutting edge technology to bring ozonated nanobubbles to your prep-sink at optimal concentrations. This means that you have an on demand, powerful, safe, and sustainable disinfectant at your disposal every time you turn it on. In addition to disinfecting, our system promotes dramatic rehydration to replace water which was lost since harvest.

Even though it’s had a long hard journey from the farm to the fork, you can finally serve raw leafy greens with confidence. Your salads will be safer, crunchier, better looking, and free from unpleasant or dangerous chemical by-products. Let Quail Systems help you upgrade your kitchen disinfection today!

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