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During the early stages of aerobic composting, heat is generated and when the materials are self-insulating, extended exposure of pathogens to this heat source will lead to significant reduction, if not elimination, of the pathogens. However, when insufficient heat is applied to the composting materials, pathogens may survive. Under those conditions if the compost had contained material of animal origin or food waste, it would be considered untreated and would not be allowed in fields growing crops that may be consumed raw. However, alternative treatment processes are allowed, provided they are validated to meet the microbial standards stipulated in the Produce Safety final rule of the Food Safety Modernization Act and that the physical parameters of the process are documented to ensure that the conditions under which the process was validated have been met. Hence, this exploratory study was undertaken in a laboratory setting to determine the potential for application of aerosolized smoke to inactivate Salmonella in manure-based compost. Smoke generated from wood chips (oak or pecan) and introduced to the headspace of contaminated cow manure compost (≤3 log CFU/g) in sealed containers (35 g per container) resulted in no Salmonella detected by enrichment culture in 100% (0 of 14) of the samples after 18 to 48 h of exposure, whereas Salmonella in control samples remained at initial levels over the same time period. Shorter exposure times (6 h) to the smoke aerosols were less effective (11 of 24 samples positive by enrichment culture), and additional flushes with the wood smoke during this time failed to decrease the prevalence of contamination. Smoke aerosols generated from waste agricultural materials and held in containers with Salmonella-contaminated compost for 18 h significantly reduced the prevalence of the pathogen in samples compared with control samples ( P < 0.05). The odds of not finding Salmonella in smoke-exposed compost were 14 (pine needles and rice hulls), 23 (cocoa hulls, orange rind, and peanut hulls), and 28 (sunflower hulls) times greater compared with samples not exposed to smoke. Many other variables remain to be examined (e.g., compost composition, compost maturity, and anaerobic conditions) to determine whether this approach could be universally applied to manure-based compost. Validation under field conditions will be required and may entail use of this approach in combination with suboptimal thermal conditions (<55°C).
This article was published in the following journal.
Name: Journal of food protection
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