Fresh foods can be naturally contaminated with bacteria and fungi at levels that vary with the type of produce, season and weather/growing conditions. This contamination can arise from soil, irrigation water, surface water runoff and process water whether from mains supply or from recycled/borehole/reservoir water. Against this background, food processors are under ever-increasing pressure from supermarket chains and regulators to supply safe, high quality fresh produce with reduced bacterial contamination and absence of pathogens. Consumers are also becoming increasingly aware of food safety issues, adding to the pressure on suppliers to meet new standards.
Although food producers and processors already follow established processing procedures, there is always a risk that bacterial contamination from the produce, the processing/packing machinery or the process water, cannot be eliminated using conventional cleaning procedures between batches or after daily plant shut down.
The current trend towards healthy eating and ready-to-eat (RTE) produce potentially exposes the consumer to higher risk, especially if food is not cooked at the point of consumption. Residual bacterial or fungal contamination can also reduce the “best before” shelf-life resulting in increased wastage.