Arizona researchers find biobased solution for safer melons

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In Arizona, scientists have received a $610,000 grant to extend their research efforts in food safety. Sadhana Ravishankar, associate professor in the University of Arizona’s School of Animal and Comparative Biomedical Science, and  Aishwarya Rao, research analyst, are using essential oils, plant-based extracts, and spice powers to reduce or eradicate harmful, foodborne bacteria such as E. coli, salmonella.

The grant from the National Institute of Food and Agriculture’s Specialty Crops Research Initiative will be used to produce safer melons. It is part of a larger, $4.5-million award to Texas A&M and collaborating entities.

Melons—particularly cantaloupes, have caused a number of outbreaks in the last 10 years.

“Listeria is dangerous for pregnant women and individuals with compromised immune systems,” Ravishankar tells Arizona Daily Star. “For those susceptible, the infectious dose can be very small. Even if there are only a hundred cells on the cantaloupe, these individuals can still get sick.”

Essential oils and plant extracts with antimicrobial activity include oregano, cinnamon, lemongrass and clove bud oil, as well as olive, apple, grape seed, green tea, black tea and decaffeinated black tea extracts.