Abstract: Recent outbreaks associated to the consumption of raw or minimally processed vegetable products that have resulted in several illnesses and a few deaths call for urgent actions aimed at improving the safety of those products. Electron beam irradiation can extend shelf-life and assure safety of fresh produce. However, undesirable effects on the organoleptic quality at doses required to achieve pathogen inactivation limit irradiation. Ways to increase pathogen radiation sensitivity could reduce the dose required for a certain level of microbial kill. The objective of this study was to evaluate the effectiveness of using natural antimicrobials when irradiating fresh produce. The minimum inhibitory concentration of 5 natural compounds and extracts (trans-cinnamaldehyde, eugenol, garlic extract, propolis extract, and lysozyme with ethylenediaminetetraacetate acid (disodium salt dihydrate) was determined against Salmonella spp. and Listeria spp. In order to mask odor and off-flavor inherent of several compounds, and to increase their solubility, complexes of these compounds and extracts with β-cyclodextrin were prepared by the freeze-drying method. All compounds showed bacteriostatic effect at different levels for both bacteria. The effectiveness of the microencapsulated compounds was tested by spraying them on the surface of baby spinach inoculated with Salmonella spp. The dose (D10 value) required to reduce the bacterial population by 1 log was 0.190 kGy without antimicrobial addition. The increase in radiation sensitivity (up to 40%) varied with the antimicrobial compound. These results confirm that the combination of spraying microencapsulated antimicrobials with electron beam irradiation was effective in increasing the killing effect of irradiation.
Practical Application: Foodborne illness outbreaks attributed to fresh produce consumption have increased and present new challenges to food safety. Current technologies (water washing or treating with 200 ppm chlorine) cannot eliminate internalized pathogens. Ionizing radiation is a viable alternative for eliminating pathogens; however, the dose required to inactivate these pathogens is often too high to be tolerated by the fresh produce without undesirable quality changes. This study uses natural antimicrobial ingredients as radiosensitizers. These ingredients were encapsulated and applied to fresh produce that was subsequently irradiated. The process results in high level of microorganism inactivation using lower doses than the conventional irradiation treatments.