A new FDA-approved process for cleaning and packaging produce may have even germ-conscious shoppers grabbing fruit from the shelf and eating it right out of the package.
Fruits and vegetables can be cleaned of pathogens and surface pesticides before being sealed in protective packaging, keeping the produce clean. And according to the man who developed the process, the cleaning system doesn't rely on chemicals or irradiation, but instead uses purified water electrically charged with negative ions. Clear packaging protects the produce from in-store contamination from other shoppers.
Blake La Grange, president of Houston-based Suntex Group Ltd., said that the process Suntex uses not only cleans produce—it protects it from the enthusiastic groping that produce is subjected to each day in the store.
"I feel like the only hands, mouths and noses that really need to get next to that fruit are [the buyers'] own," he said. "I think a lot of contamination on fruit really comes inside the grocery store where people are fondling or smelling or knocking on it—all the funny things they do to figure out if that fruit's ready to eat. Not many folks know how many people have handled that piece of fruit before they buy it."
To develop the cleaning and packaging process, La Grange met with scientists at Texas A&M University in College Station and at California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo. They came up with a technology that, La Grange said, "has been around for 100 years, but that no one had made commercially applicable until I came up with this system."
The process involves more than just washing fruits and vegetables with ionized water. La Grange said each type of produce needs a specific protocol—broccoli is different from tomatoes, which are different from potatoes or apples.
The process might be applicable to organic produce. "I'd have to know how the water is being ionized and if any prohibited substances are contaminating that water," said Brian Baker, Ph.D., director of the Organic Materials Review Institute in Eugene, Ore. "That's what I can't tell. It is OMRI's opinion, and it's an opinion shared by the [National Organic Standards Board]—although the NOSB is having to reconsider it—that ion exchange is a chemical technology, but it's not categorically prohibited."
Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXIII/number 11/p. 11