Evaluation of Current Operating Standards for Chlorine Dioxide in Disinfection of Dump Tank and Flume for Fresh Tomatoes
Standard postharvest unit operations that rely on copious water contact, such as fruit unloading and washing, approach the criteria for a true critical control point in fresh tomato production. Performance data for approved sanitizers that reflect commercial systems are needed to set standards for audit compliance. This study was conducted to evaluate the efficacy of chlorine dioxide (ClO2) for water disinfection as an objective assessment of recent industry-adopted standards for dump tank and flume management in fresh tomato packing operations. On-site assessments were conducted during eight temporally distinct shifts in two Florida packinghouses and one California packinghouse. Microbiological analyses of incoming and washed fruit and dump and flume system water were evaluated. Water temperature, pH, turbidity, conductivity, and oxidation-reduction potential (ORP) were monitored. Reduction in populations of mesophilic and coliform bacteria on fruit was not significant, and populations were significantly higher (P<0.05) after washing. Escherichia coli was near the limit of detection in dump tanks but consistently below the detection limit in flumes. Turbidity and conductivity increased with loads of incoming tomatoes. Water temperature varied during daily operations, but pH and ORP mostly remained constant. The industry standard positive temperature differential of 5.5°C between water and fruit pulp was not maintained in tanks during the full daily operation. ORP values were significantly higher in the flume than in the dump tank. A positive correlation was found between ORP and temperature, and negative correlations were found between ORP and turbidity, total mesophilic bacteria, and coliforms. This study provides in-plant data indicating that ClO2 can be an effective sanitizer in flume and spray-wash systems, but current operational limitations restrict its performance in dump tanks. Under current conditions, ClO2 alone is unlikely to allow the fresh tomato industry to meet its microbiological quality goals under typical commercial conditions.