The market for minimally processed fruits and vegetables has significantly increased in recent years and their appeal derives from their convenience and the decrease of generated waste (Rico, Martın-Diana, Barat, & Barry-Ryan, 2007). In particular, as reported by Fig. 1, in USA, their consumption covers about 48% of the market. Moreover, because characterized by high levels of vitamins, fibres, minerals and antioxidants (Siroli et al., 2014, Siroli et al., 2015c, Siroli et al., 2015a and Siroli et al., 2015b), they can represent a convenient way of preventing cancers and chronic illnesses such as coronary heart disease (Bhalla, Gupta, & Jaitak, 2013). In fact, the recommended fruit and vegetable consumption for this purpose should be higher than 400 g/day and consumers should be encouraged to eat at least five servings of fruit and vegetables each day (Ragaert, Verbeke, Devlieghere, & Debevere, 2004). However, minimally processed fruits and vegetables are susceptible to microbial proliferation due to the loss of their natural resistance and their high water and nutrient content (Rico et al., 2007 and Serrano et al., 2008).
In addition, the fresh produce during processing are subjected to several processing steps such as peeling, cutting or slicing favouring the microbial growth due to the release of nutritive substances and the transport of the microbiota located on fruit and vegetable surfaces to the cut surfaces (Lanciotti et al., 2003, Rojas-Grau et al., 2007, Siroli et al., 2014, Siroli et al., 2015a and Siroli et al., 2015b). Also the active metabolism of fruit tissue, and the confinement of final product inside the packaging favour the growth of the naturally occurring microorganisms (Lanciotti et al., 2004). Between 1996 and 2004, the Food Drug and Administration (FDA) responded to 14 outbreaks of foodborne illness for which lettuce or tomatoes were confirmed to be the source, where there were 859 cases of reported illness.
In 2006 in the United States, there was a multi-state outbreak of Escherichia coli 0157:H7 implicating spinach, 276 cases of foodborne illness and three deaths were reported (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ( CDC, 2006)). In May 2011, Germany reported an ongoing outbreak of Shiga-toxin producing E. coli (STEC), serotype O104:H4, reporting 3785 cases of illness and 45 deaths. Other illness and deaths attributed to this outbreak were reported outside of Germany and sprouted seeds were later identified as the outbreak vehicle ( EFSA, 2011). The lack of processing steps or factors able to eradicate microbial contaminants make necessary an efficient temperature control during manufacture, distribution and retailing to ensure the maintaining of the microbiological quality and the safety of minimally processed fruits and vegetables ( Siroli et al., 2014,Siroli et al., 2015a and Siroli et al., 2015b).
Currently, for minimally processed vegetables, the washing step, performed with sanitizing solution, is the only phase able to reduce the number of pathogenic and spoilage microorganisms (São José & Vanetti, 2012) and nowadays, chlorine is the most common decontaminant used at industrial level (Rico et al., 2007), although its use is prohibited in some European countries such as the Netherlands, Sweden, Germany and Belgium (Gil, Selma, López-Gálvez, & Allende, 2009). In addition, chlorine-based compounds are corrosive, cause skin and respiratory tract irritation and react with the organic matter present in the water leading to the formation of potentially harmful trihalomethanes (López-Gálvez, Allende, Selma, & Gil, 2009).
In fact, they can act as internal messengers, as defensive substances against herbivores or as volatiles directing not only natural enemies to these herbivores but also attracting pollinating insects to their host (Bakkali et al., 2008). Among the many effects, they are important for their antimicrobial and antioxidant properties ( Brewer, 2011, Carocho et al., 2008, Pillai and Ramaswamy, 2012, Rasooli, 2007, Rıos and Recio, 2005 and Tiwari et al., 2009).
Market of fresh and minimally processed fruits and vegetables in USA.
Adapted from (Cook, 2008).
EOs are usually extracted from plants through several different methods, including steam, hydro-distillation or supercritical carbon dioxide. Most of these substances have been recognized as safe (GRAS) (EAFUS, 1998). Initially, EOs have been used to enhance the aroma of foods, but several researches have proved they can be useful for the prolongation of the shelf-life of different food systems, although, for this purpose, it is necessary understanding their mechanisms of action (Belletti et al., 2008 and Serrano et al., 2005).
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The authors of this article are
- Syed Mudabbar Hussain Shah from Department of Food Engineering. a
- Syed Shabbar Hussain Shah from Department of Soil Science. a
- Mirtab Ali from Department of Food Science & Technology. a
*a = University of Agriculture, Faisalabad.