In recent years, producers, the public and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration have become increasingly concerned about the microbiological safety of fruits and vegetables. Produce related outbreaks of foodborne illness have been attributed to sprouted seeds, leafy vegetables, tomatoes, melons, berries, and unpasteurized juices. Foodborne illnesses in fruits and vegetables have been linked to several microbial species, including Escherichia coli O157:H7, Salmonella species, Listeria monocytogenes, Shigella species, Cyclospora cayetanensis, Hepatitis A virus, and Norwalk-like virus. As fruit and vegetable consumption continues to increase, fresh produce has become the second most common medium for foodborne illness. Although processors and consumers perform washing and sanitizing steps on some fruits and vegetables to reduce microbial load, efficacy data indicates that these conventional methods are not capable of reducing microbial populations by more than 90 to 99%, and foodborne illness outbreaks continue. Higher microbial reductions on fresh produce could be achieved by using a gaseous decontamination that uses a sanitizing agent of greater lethality to contact and kill microorganisms that survive the conventional washing and disinfecting methods used by producers and farmers. Ozone gas has been found to effectively eliminate microorganisms on food surfaces. It is one of the most effective sanitizers known, yet leaves no hazardous residues on food or food contact surfaces. In addition, ozone has GRAS status and FDA approval for the antimicrobial treatment, processing, and storage of foods. Despite these advantages, conventional methods of ozone production remain complicated for small scale applications and have not been widely exploited for the disinfection of small quantities of fruits and vegetables at the point of consumption. Lynntech, Inc. has developed and patented a novel electrochemical method which utilizes air and the electrolysis of water to generate ozone gas. The technology that Lynntech proposes is uniquely suited for integration into a small, countertop device for the decontamination of fresh produce by the end user. During this Phase I project, Lynntech will provide a sound technical basis for a new electrochemically based consumer device for the disinfection of fresh fruits and vegetables. In Phase II, Lynntech will pursue FDA approval and relationships with commercial partners that are interested in seeing the technology to a commercially viable product.
The CDC estimates that foodborne illness accounts for 76 million illnesses, 325,000 hospitalizations, and 5,200 deaths in the US each year. The proportion of these outbreaks caused by fruits and vegetables without cooking has increased in recent decades. An effective point of use decontamination method for fresh produce could be an important intervention step in enhancing food safety and preventing illness.