By Chuck Willoughby
Foundation Focus serves to support and enhance the programs that carry out FAPC’s mission through the donations of individual and industry partners to the Product Innovation Fund. Since the fund’s implementation in 2003, nearly $400,000 has been received as sponsorships to specific discipline areas. One such example is a two-year commitment by Unitherm Food Systems of Bristow, Oklahoma, to support a graduate student in Peter Muriana’s food microbiology program. “Because of Unitherm’s Onion inoculated with support, we can non-pathogenic Lisprovide support teria innocua passes to a graduate through a flame grill student to focus oven. The heat kills investigations on antimicrobial pathogens that may
be on the surface of the onion without damaging the edible material which can proceed to further processing.
processing strategies to eliminate or reduce foodborne pathogens and/or spoilage organisms,” said Muriana, FAPC food microbiologist. “These organisms may grow as biofilms on produce, or similarly, create biofilm contamination of surfaces in food-processing facilities.” During the course of graduate research under the Unitherm Graduate Fellowship, the graduate student collects validation data to identify how specialized equipment and processes are beneficial to the industry. “What we learn from our investigations help the industry produce safer foods for the consumer,” Muriana said. “It’s a win-win for us, the graduate student and Unitherm.” A recent study focused on onion food safety. This widely consumed, versatile vegetable is susceptible to environmental
insults because of being grown in and on the ground during long periods, he said. “They’re out there in the open, possibly to receive any kind of fecal contamination from birds, rodents, deer, rabbits, you name it,” Muriana said. “The produce is out there for weeks or months at a time before it’s harvested, so plenty of opportunity for bacteria to get onto these products.” Unitherm Food Systems developed a gas-fired flame grill to help reduce bacteria in products. Onions are moved along a conveyer belt and hit with flames to burn the outer layer where the bacteria would reside. A secondary system with a wet scrub brush is used to remove the ash residue from the onions. Muriana’s team collaborated with Unitherm for microbial validation of the system. The research team looked at yeast, mold and listeria on red, yellow and white