Team of researchers from across the country address organic-compliant food safety concerns
The Technology Development Institute at K-State produced a unique conveyor system to improve the sanitation of organic produce operations. (Courtesy Photo)
MANHATTAN, Kan. — Kansas State University’s Technology Development Institute in the Carl R. Ice College of Engineering is working with a team of researchers from across the country to address organic-compliant food safety concerns for the produce industry.
The effort is funded by a U.S. Department of Agriculture grant as part of the Organic Agriculture Research and Extension initiative to help solve critical organic agriculture issues.
The research team consists of food scientists from K-State and four additional universities — the University of Missouri, the University of Arizona, the University of Florida and the University of Georgia — and has an overall goal of developing new technologies to control Listeria biofilms on food-contact surfaces and equipment.
The Technology Development Institute supported the research team by designing and fabricating a unique, portable conveyor system to conduct testing at organic grower farms across the Midwest, Southwest and Southeast regions.
The conveyor system is designed to operate at variable speeds and consists of four separate and controllable treatment zones. Each zone has a combination of UV-C lights as well as an aqueous spray system, enabling researchers to investigate the effectiveness of a wide range of treatment scenarios to determine what is most effective at improving surface contact sanitation.
The system is designed to be moved around to various farms, where testing can be conducted on-site under actual farm conditions.
Manreet Bhullar, research assistant professor in the horticulture and natural resources department at K-State and a member of the research team, provided TDI with a conceptual model as a starting point for the development. TDI was able to take the model and begin detailing the system to the point where it could be manufactured.
“Having TDI as part of our team was critical to receive our research funding through the USDA as they were the engineering resource that was capable of bringing our vision for a conveyor treatment system to life,” said Valentina Trinetta, food safety expert and associate professor at the Food Science Institute at K-State.
The system is currently undergoing testing at the Food Safety Lab at K-State Olathe to validate its performance and begin developing initial testing protocols, and it is expected to be deployed into the field during the 2024 growing season for testing and evaluation.
In addition to testing and validating the system, the grant also focuses on offering workshops and demonstrations on cleaning and sanitation practices for organic growers around the nation, while evaluating the economic costs for the developed prototype.
This project was completed in support of the K-State 105 initiative, Kansas State University’s answer to the call for a comprehensive economic growth and advancement solution for Kansas. The initiative leverages the statewide K-State Research and Extension network to deliver the full breadth of the university’s collective knowledge and solution-driven innovation to every Kansan, right where they live and work. Additionally, K-State 105 forges the connections and partnerships that create access to additional expertise within other state institutions and agencies, nonprofits and corporations — all part of an effort to build additional capacities and strengths in each of the 105 counties in the state.
The K-State Technology Development Institute, a U.S. Department of Commerce Economic Development Administration University Center, provides a broad range of engineering and business development services to both private industry and university researchers to advance the commercial readiness of new products or technologies.
— Bret Lanz, Kansas State University