Priority 5: Reducing food safety risk

Developing the logistics for producing human pathogens-free organic strawberries in the State of Tennessee


Project LeaderZhou project photo 1

  • Suping Zhou, Tennessee State University, Department of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences

Project Collaborator

  • Theodore Thannhauser, USDA-ARS, Plant, Soil and Nutrition Research Unit

Project Summary

The primary goal of this project was to establish a system to assist local small-scale strawberry growers to develop a sustainable business in the middle Tennessee area. Two approaches were taken, including developing a system to reduce the risk of food poisoning caused by contamination of fresh strawberries, and assisting local growers with adoption of management practices for organic strawberry production. Specific objectives were to 1) determine microbial populations, particularly human pathogens, on fresh strawberries; 2) identify the potential points of contamination during production, shipping, and marketing; 3) determine the feasibility of developing a detection kit using protein dipsticks, which can rapidly and reliably test for the presence of human pathogens on fresh strawberries; and 4) develop teaching modules for sustainable organic strawberry production, consisting of best management practices, food safety protocols, and new proven technologies, to be used by the cooperative extension service throughout Tennessee.

 Zhou project photo 2Project Outputs and Impacts

Through this project, researchers developed a reliable tool for the detection of Salmonella and Listeria using a protein dipstick assay that can be used in the lab or in the field. This technology was delivered, via workshops, demonstrations and social media, to more than 3,000 people. The project also laid the groundwork for an aptamer-based detection system for E. coli and other pathogens that are more difficult to detect with the dipstick assay. Ten extension agents and eight farmers in five counties in middle Tennessee were trained in growing organic strawberries. Five cultivars were evaluated for yield and market potential as indicated by consumer preferences. Project leaders recommend 'Albion' and 'Chandler' because of their high yield and high consumer rating. A series of social media resources were developed to disseminate research results, including a Facebook page, a photo site, and a project website. Videos were recorded for the social media sites and a number of demonstrations and workshops were given. Eight surveys were designed and conducted to explore consumers’ taste preferences and awareness of food safety issues. Information was delivered through mail and survey sheets to more than 1,000 community members. Graduate students and faculty members led six presentations at regional and international conferences. Thirty acres of strawberries are now under new or improved management, paving the way for sustainable strawberry production in the Middle Tennessee area.