Safe food, farm to fork

It’s been my lab’s moto for over 20 years.

Nice to see the American Society for Microbiology catch up (nothing personal, Randy, just idle academic chirping, but at least you get paid).

Fresh produce supply chains present variable and diverse conditions that are relevant to food quality and safety because they may favor microbial growth and survival following contamination. This study presents the development of a simulation and visualization framework to model microbial dynamics on fresh produce moving through postharvest supply chain processes.

The postharvest supply chain with microbial travelers (PSCMT) tool provides a modular process modeling approach and graphical user interface to visualize microbial populations and evaluate practices specific to any fresh produce supply chain. The resulting modeling tool was validated with empirical data from an observed tomato supply chain from Mexico to the United States, including the packinghouse, distribution center, and supermarket locations, as an illustrative case study. Due to data limitations, a model-fitting exercise was conducted to demonstrate the calibration of model parameter ranges for microbial indicator populations, i.e., mesophilic aerobic microorganisms (quantified by aerobic plate count and here termed APC) and total coliforms (TC). Exploration and analysis of the parameter space refined appropriate parameter ranges and revealed influential parameters for supermarket indicator microorganism levels on tomatoes. Partial rank correlation coefficient analysis determined that APC levels in supermarkets were most influenced by removal due to spray water washing and microbial growth on the tomato surface at postharvest locations, while TC levels were most influenced by growth on the tomato surface at postharvest locations. Overall, this detailed mechanistic dynamic model of microbial behavior is a unique modeling tool that complements empirical data and visualizes how postharvest supply chain practices influence the fate of microbial contamination on fresh produce.

IMPORTANCE Preventing the contamination of fresh produce with foodborne pathogens present in the environment during production and postharvest handling is an important food safety goal. Since studying foodborne pathogens in the environment is a complex and costly endeavor, computer simulation models can help to understand and visualize microorganism behavior resulting from supply chain activities. The postharvest supply chain with microbial travelers (PSCMT) model, presented here, provides a unique tool for postharvest supply chain simulations to evaluate microbial contamination. The tool was validated through modeling an observed tomato supply chain. Visualization of dynamic contamination levels from harvest to the supermarket and analysis of the model parameters highlighted critical points where intervention may prevent microbial levels sufficient to cause foodborne illness. The PSCMT model framework and simulation results support ongoing postharvest research and interventions to improve understanding and control of fresh produce contamination.

Postharvest supply chain with microbial travelers: A farm-to-retail microbial simulation and visualization framework

American Society for Microbiology, 10.1128/AEM.00813-18

Claire Zoellner, Mohammad Abdullah Al-Mamun, Yrjo Grohn, Peter Jackson, Randy Worobo