Jan. 27, 1998 ROCHESTER, NY (Jan. 23, 1998) -- Ultraviolet light may be the answer to E. coli O157:H7 contamination of fresh cider and fruit juices, according to Cornell University microbiologist and food safety expert Randy Worobo. Speaking before a group of about 150 apple growers and cider producers at the New York State Horticultural Society's Annual Meeting in Rochester last week, Worobo unveiled a feasible alternative to thermal pasteurization that has shown very promising results in preliminary testing.
Worobo and two engineers from the Rochester-based firm, FPE, Inc., have come up with a new design for a UV pasteurization unit that should be perfect for small cider producers. Worobo reported that,"the new unit is about one-quarter of the price of a thermal pasteurization unit, small, economical to run, and very user-friendly."
In the new process, a thin film of cider is pumped past UV light at the rate of about two gallons per minute. Preliminary tests have shown that this particular design reduces E. coli contamination from 100,000 microorganisms per ml to 1 organism per ml. Tests may prove effective against other pathogens as well, according to Worobo.
Nationwide isolate outbreaks of contamination of fresh apple cider and fruit juices by the bacteria E. coli 0157:H7 have been causing health problems and creating a crisis of confidence among consumers in the past few years. This virulent strain of E. coli (O157:H7) was first identified in 1982. Producers and consumers are clamoring for more information and recommendations for safe production practices. Last year, thermal pasteurization was the process of choice, but the thermal pasteurization units cost about $30,000 and are out of the reach of most small producers who rely on a four-week season in the fall to cover the costs of production.
"Preliminary tests indicate UV light causes no sensory changes in the juice," said Worobo. Further testing on feasibility and effectiveness is being conducted by the two engineers who developed the technology, Patrick Borrelli and Phil Harman, and Worobo, in conjunction with food specialists (Mark McLellan) at the New York State Agricultural Experiment Station in Geneva, who are evaluating the sensory data.
The unit could cost as little as $6,000. FPE, Inc., has applied for a patent. The 1998 New York State Horticultural Society's Annual Meeting and Trade Show was held in conjunction with the Cornell Cooperative Extension Western New York Tree Fruit School at the Thurway Marriott in Rochester, NY, on Jan. 15 and 16. The meeting emphasized educational programs on tree fruits and grapes.
"About 550 peole attended the show over the two-day period," said Hort Society Executive Secretary Dan Donahue. He noted that the industry was concerned about filling vacant positions in tree fruit at Cornell in Geneva, Ithaca, and the Hudson Valley, the loss of organophosphate and carbamate insecticides without a viable alternative in the near-term because of the Food Quality Protection Act, cider pasteurization, and IPM labeling practices.
Steve Hoying, of the Lake Ontario Fruit Team, helped organize the Tree Fruit School, which was well attended. Sessions by Cornell faculty and Cooperative Extension experts were held on processing (Steve Hoying), future management of oblique-banded leaf rollers (Art Agnello for Harvey Reissig), the performance and fit of Pyramite with current miticides (Art Agnello), the effects of fungicides on predatory mites (Jan Nyrop), the 1996 Food Quality Proection Act (Joseph Hotchkiss), arthropod control in the Hudson (Dick Straub), replant problems (Warren Smith), practical thinning programs (Terence Robinson and Alan Lakso), post harvest decay (Dave Rosenberger), managing calcium nutrition (Warren Stiles), and hard cider production in Europe (Ian Merwin). In the grape program, issues that were addressed by Cornell experts included the flavor chemistry of Concord grapes (Terry Acree), who conducted a taste tasting.
According to Mike Durando, president of the NYS Apple Association, other important industry issues were covered in a forum on using IPM as a marketing tool for apples. Durando said four years' of consumer marketing research compiled by his organization indicated that the top attributes considered by consumers in the purchase of apples are bruise-free fruit, color appropriate to the variety, firmness and texture, followed by price and packaging.
"Among the top 10 consumer concerns, we do not hear about a concern for chemicals in the production of apples, unless consumers are pushed," he said. He also noted that New Yorkers discriminate among varieties better than most consumers in other parts of the country, who mostly differentiate based on color.
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