High pressure treatment can reduce contamination in hot peppers

Even as a new recall on fresh jalapenos possibly contaminated with salmonella has been announced, researchers at the University of Delaware have released findings that high-pressure treatment can kill salmonella in hot peppers.

Haiqiang Chen, Ph.D., associate professor in food science, and then-doctoral student Hudaa Neetoo, conducted a study with the main goal of assessing the application of high hydrostatic pressure (HHP) to remove salmonella from contaminated jalapeno and serrano peppers. Inoculating test peppers with a five-strain cocktail of salmonella, they subsequently pressure treated dry, briefly dipped in water and soaked peppers.

According to the study’s abstract, pressure treatment in the soaked and dipped states following specific protocols rendered salmonella undetectable. In addition, they studied pressure treatment in salsa and guacamole made with contaminated raw peppers, also with encouraging results.

“This study demonstrates the dual efficacy of HHP to decontaminate fresh chile peppers destined for direct consumption and minimally process condiments possibly contaminated with raw peppers,” according to the abstract.

Chen said consumers would notice little or no difference in quality of fresh peppers that have undergone HHP treatment.

“There’s some impact, but based on what we observed, the impact should be minimal,” he said.

The university has been researching HHP to enhance food safety for the past 20 years, Chen said. The study cites “one of the largest multi-state salmonellosis outbreaks linked to the consumption of jalapeno and serrano peppers” in 2008. Meanwhile, Kentucky-based Castellini Produce is now recalling jalapenos that might be at risk for salmonella contamination. There have been no reports of anyone being sickened in the current recall, however.

As with earlier, similar research in green onions, Chen said the peppers’ study findings will be helpful to the fresh produce industry and processors of condiments containing peppers.

The study was published online March 26 by the International Journal of Food Microbiology.

Pictured: Haiqiang Chen, Ph.D.

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