Problem Statement

  1. Salmonella has been implicated in outbreaks and/or recalls in numerous low-moisture foods and ingredients, including almonds, pistachios, peanut products, hazelnuts, pecans, pet food, cake batter mix, and other dry ingredients, including soy products, black pepper, and dried hydrolyzed vegetable protein (HVP).
  2. Hygiene and sanitation practices are insufficient to alone ensure product safety; therefore, processing interventions are an emerging imperative to reduce the risk of Salmonella in low-moisture products. 
  3. Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) Preventive Controls rules will mandate that the food industry implement and validate interventions to prevent or control identified hazards, such as Salmonella in low-moisture products.
  4. No single technology will provide a universal solution acceptable for all types of low-moisture products or processors.
  5. There is an entire category of currently-operating “legacy technologies” that were not designed as “kill steps” (e.g., roasting, baking, and drying), but which now must be validated for this purpose (including appropriate controls and monitoring systems)
  6. Although general guidance about controlling Salmonella in low-moisture products and validating thermal processes is available, prior reports do not address specific challenges associated with technology selection, technology improvement, or application of product- or process-specific inactivation data or models.  
This proposed project is aimed at meeting this critical and urgent need via highly integrated and collaborative research, training, and education activities focused on improving the development and implementation of pasteurization technologies for low-moisture products.

Overall Goal

To enhance the development, improvement, and commercial adoption of pasteurization technologies for low-moisture foods, considering efficacy, product quality, regulatory requirements, energy use, and suitability for the target end-users.

Specific Objectives

  1. Develop standardized protocols for evaluation/validation of low-moisture pasteurization technologies (e.g., mapping temperature distributions, quantifying process variability, and selecting/preparing/utilizing a non-pathogenic surrogate).
  2. Conduct an extensive battery of inoculated challenge studies with representative products treated by multiple process technologies (e.g., steam, radio-frequency, extrusion, drying, gas), including pilot-scale trials in multiple Biosafety Level-2(3) pilot plants, to quantify process characteristics (e.g., efficacy, variability) and to establish “safe harbors.”
  3. Develop and evaluate improvements of key existing thermal processes previously designed to achieve quality outcomes, but not necessarily pasteurization outcomes (e.g., dryers, baking ovens, roasters), in order to enable implementation of low-cost food safety solutions, particularly for small and medium-sized processors.
  4. Develop, implement, and assess multiple outreach, training, and service resources aimed at technology developers, end-users, and validation professionals, including:
    1. A multi-criteria technology comparison tool.
    2. Sustainable professional training programs, including annual workshops, webinars, and FSMA standardized curriculum modules.
    3. A multi-location “Validation Center” that will provide long-term support (validations and on-site training) for equipment companies and processors of low-moisture foods.
  5. Develop, test, disseminate, and assess online, graduate-level learning modules focused on low-moisture food safety, pasteurization technologies, and process validation methodologies.