Fruits and vegetables (produce) intended for minimal processing are often rinsed or washed in water. Chlorine and other sanitizers are used during washing to inactivate produce spoilage microbes, but such procedures may also inactivate pathogens epidemiologically linked to produce, such as hepatitis A virus (HAV). However, no information exists on the efficacy of chlorinated wash water to inactivate HAV and other viruses on produce in actual practice, because of obvious safety concerns. In contrast, coliphage MS2 (a bacterial virus) is commonly used as a surrogate for some pathogenic viruses and may be safely used in field studies. In the present investigation, strawberries seeded with MS2 were passed through industrial-scale water washing units operated with or without added sodium hypochlorite. MS2 on strawberries was inactivated by 68%, 92% and 96% at free chlorine (FC) concentrations of ≤2, 20 and 200 ppm in wash water, respectively. MS2 was detected in wash water containing ≤2 ppm FC in one trial, but was not detected in water containing 20 or 200 ppm FC. The presence and absence of MS2 in wash water containing various levels of FC highlight the importance of controlling sanitizer levels to prevent viral cross contamination of strawberries.

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