QUAFETY - Comprehensive Approach to Enhance Quality and Safety of Ready to Eat Fresh Products

The QUAFETY Project is co-funded by the European Commission through the 7th framework program, the total contribution is of about 3 million Euro and involves 14 partners, of which 6 Universities, 2 R&D Institutions, and 6 SME (small and medium enterprises), from 7 different countries (Italy, United Kingdom, Israel, Poland, Netherlands, Portugal, Greece).

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Project aims

Fresh-cut packaged fruit and vegetables sold in the market represent an underestimated public health risk due to the possible presence of pathogenic bacteria that are known to cause serious illness in the consumers. Another peculiarity of RTE (ready-to-eat) fresh F&V is that the food is constituted by living cell tissue, rapidly metabolizing, especially when peeled and cut in portions for better convenience. For this reason quality attributes (i.e. appearance, texture, flavour, and nutritional value) degrade very fast and shelf life is often a matter of days or, in some cases, of weeks. For all these reasons fresh-cut produce represent a very interesting RTE food system where the need of improvements in terms of safety and quality is of paramount importance.

A number of priorities are on top of the list of the fresh-cut industry which may have a direct influence on RTE food consumers. SAFETY of course, not only in relation to microbial contamination but also related to all other possible issues coming from chemical contamination from both anthropogenic activities or naturally occurring. And QUALITY, especially considering expectations from consumers who pay a relatively high price in order to purchase a high-convenience fresh fruit or vegetable which should live up to expectations in terms of nutritional quality and flavour. An RTE food is usually purchased on the basis of appearance, especially when packaged in transparent films like fresh-cut produce. However, consumer satisfaction in terms of organoleptic characteristics (aroma, firmness and taste) strongly affects subsequent purchases.

Pursuing higher safety and quality in RTE fresh F&V-based food products should be a major objective of R&D programs. Scientific evidence will be provided to serve as a basis for increasing the safety and quality of RTE foods, enabling food business operators and especially SMEs (small and medium enterprises) to identify better where improvements are possible in the RTE food production chain, addressing on the one side public health risks associated to these particular products, and on the other side processing methods which may improve quality during the shelf-life.

Given the state of the art of R&D in these fields there is a strong need for predictive models related to microbial growth (degenerative and pathogens) and to changes of quality attributes in the various environmental conditions along the supply chain. In addition, the industry would readily exploit all kind of tools which can make it easier to make the best choices related to production and processing options (diagnostic kits, decision support tools, online process control devices). All these kinds of innovation might help to re-visit and improve good practice procedures or, better, define a more efficient management system for quality and safety of RTE fresh produce along the production chain.

As a response to the industry needs and in relation to the state of the art, QUAFETY project will address the following objectives:
  • to provide the industry with diagnostic kits for the evaluation of microbial contamination and shelf-life determination;
  • to provide useful tools for process control to the fresh-cut industry based on non-destructive and rapid measurements or evaluation, aimed to enhance the final quality of the product;
  • to provide the industry operators with decisions supporting tools in very critical points of the fresh-cut processing chain from raw genotype selection to economic strategic planning; and to optimise processing techniques, in order to improve safety and quality;
  • to develop and implement process innovations aimed to improve safety and quality;
  • to consider consumers’ response to safety and quality attributes deriving from the novel applications in order to evaluate the impact on markets and profitability implications for the industry;
  • to design and implement a more effective and efficient Quality/Safety Management System for RTE fresh produce industry;
  • to disseminate in a modern and efficient way all the innovative products of the present proposal.
Most of the activities will be focused on 2 model commodities, i.e. melon (Cucumis melo L.), and rocket salad (Diplotaxis tenuifolia L.), representing a fruit and a leafy vegetable with a very high market impact), although, when suitable, extension to other economically relevant species will be covered.

It might be expected that the results of this project will have a tremendous impact onto the following aspects:
  • increase scientific evidence about safety aspects related with the consumption of RTE fresh produce;
  • expand consumer awareness about safety aspects related to the consumption of RTE fresh produce;
  • availability of RTE fresh-cut products of better quality and safety for consumers;
  • increase the innovation capacity of horticulture and food industry, thus strengthening its competitiveness;
  • provide scientific evidence to the EC and other health authorities in order to evaluate whether further regulation is required in this area of food safety;
  • represent a reference point for specialized and general media when covering quality and safety aspects of RTE fresh F&V;
  • provide scientific evidence for supporting Institutional and private campaigns for healthy nutrition.