Chiquita, Fresh Express roll out food safety technology

(UPDATED COVERAGE, 5 p.m.) ORLANDO, Fla. — Calling it a scientific breakthrough, Chiquita Brands International and Fresh Express have unveiled a new produce wash technology they say removes microorganisms from leafy greens more effectively than conventional chlorine sanitizers.

Cincinnati-based Chiquita, which owns Fresh Express introduced FreshRinse Oct. 15 at a news conference at the Produce Marketing Association’s Fresh Summit 2010.

Chiquita plans to make the system available for license development.

"Based on our extensive research, we are proud to introduce the biggest invention since the creation of prepackaged salads,” said Fernando Aguirre, Chiquita’s chairman and chief executive officer.

Aguirre compared the new technology to portable mobile devices.

“Compare FreshRinse  technology to current wash standards,” he said. “Chlorine is the abacus and FreshRinse is the iPad. An abacus is what people use with the beads, a great thing at the time, just like chlorine rinse was. We believe FreshRinse sets a new standard in food safety.”

Chiquita cited research showing that in attached-cell testing, FreshRinse reduced E. coli O157:H7 and salmonella on romaine lettuce and spinach by factors of nine and up compared to chlorine washes.

Reductions were also reported for other pathogens tested, such as listeria monocytogenes.

Chiquita, Fresh Express roll out food safety technology

Doug Ohlemeier

Fernando Aguirre, chairman and chief executive officer of Chiquita Brands International, Cincinnati, discusses the benefits of Chiquita and Fresh Express’ FreshRinse washing technology during an Oct. 15 news conference at the Produce Marketing Association Fresh Summit 2010 in Orlando, Fla.

“As a matter of magnitude, that’s the equivalent of chlorine walking a mile and FreshRinse making two round trips to the moon,” said Mike Burness, vice president of global quality and food safety. “If chlorine walked one mile, FreshRinse would have walked a marathon. We have seen a significant reduction of potential foodborne organisms that cause disease.”

The company has not submitted its research to a peer-reviewed journal. Andrew Ciafardini, a Chiquita spokesman, said Chiquita plans to submit its research to the Journal of Food Protection by the end of the year.

“We chose to market the product before submitting research for publication in any peer-reviewed journals because anything that advances food safety, we believe, we need to leverage that for our consumers as soon as possible,” he said.

Chiquita officials said it scientifically validated commercial application for five months under salad manufacturing conditions including in cold water with dwell times typical of an actual processing plant.

Fresh Rinse was developed over several years by Fresh Express principal scientist Dr. Kai-Lai Grace Ho with support from other company divisions.

Project advisor Michael Osterholm, a professor in the School of Public Health at the University of Minnesota, said FreshRinse should be considered one of the leading tools to attack pathogens leading to foodborne illness.

“This is something that can be applied to the industry setting immediately,” he said. “It’s in the market and is immediately available. It’s a way to bring improvement for all of produce food safety.”

Other Fresh Express and Chiquita project advisors included David Acheson, managing director of food and import safety for Leavitt Partners and former Food and Drug Administration associate commissioner for food protection, and Robert Buchanan, director and professor, University of Maryland Center for Food Safety & Security Systems.

Chiquita plans to launch an initiative to educate consumers about FreshRinse early next year.

Eastern Editor Doug Ohlemeier contributed to this report.