ABSTRACT

Monitoring and maintenance of water quality in dump tanks or flume systems is crucial to maintaining proper sanitizer levels to prevent pathogen cross-contamination during postharvest washing of tomatoes, but there is limited information on how organic matter influences sanitizer efficacy in the water. The main objective of this study was to monitor water quality in flume tanks and evaluate the efficacy of postharvest washing of tomatoes in commercial packinghouses. Flume tank water samples (n = 3) were collected on an hourly basis from three packinghouses in Florida and analyzed for pH, total dissolved solids (TDS), free chlorine, chemical oxygen demand (COD), oxidation-reduction potential, and turbidity. Additionally, three flume-water samples were collected and tested for total aerobic plate count (APC), total coliforms (TC), and Escherichia coli. Fresh tomatoes (n = 3), both before and after washing, were collected and analyzed for the same bacterial counts. Turbidity, COD, and TDS levels in flume water increased over time in all packinghouses. Correlations observed include COD and turbidity (r = 0.631), turbidity and TDS (r = 0.810), and oxidation-reduction potential and chlorine (r = 0.660). APC for water samples had an average range of 0.0 to 4.7 log CFU/mL and TC average range of 0.0 to 4.7 log CFU/mL. All water samples were negative for E. coli. The average APC for pre- and postflume tomatoes from the three packinghouses was 6.0 log CFU per tomato and ranged from 2.2 to 7.4 log CFU per tomato. The average TC count was <1.5 and 7.0 log CFU per tomato for pre- and postwash tomatoes, respectively. There was no significant effect (P > 0.05) of postharvest washing on the microbiological qualities of tomatoes. Water quality in flume tanks deteriorated over time in all packinghouses during a typical operational day of 4 to 8 h.

HIGHLIGHTS
  • ORP correlates poorly with free chlorine levels in observed flume waters.

  • Turbidity may be used to indicate water quality, but it correlates poorly with COD.

  • Sanitizer levels were negatively correlated with microbial counts in flume water.

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