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May 13 - National Apple Pie Day: Getting to the Core of NIFA-funded Apple Research

Nifa Author
Lori Tyler Gula, Senior Public Affairs Specialist
Apples are the most consumed fruit in the U.S., followed closely by oranges. In 2019, the average U.S. per person consumption of all forms of apples had increased to about 26.3 pounds. The per person consumption of apple juice and cider decreased to 12.6 pounds. The consumption of fresh market apples in 2019 accounted for 10 pounds, according to USDA’s Economic Research Service.

Factors contributing to increased apple and apple product consumption include new varieties, rising incomes, production expansion in the U.S., a growing and more diverse population, products that better meet consumer lifestyles and increased awareness of including fruit in a healthy diet. As we celebrate National Apple Pie Day, we recognize some of the Land-grant Universities conducting apple research supported by USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA):

Specialty crop growers rely on manual labor for fruit picking, inspecting, data collecting and other labor-intensive tasks. Using computer vision technology and artificial intelligence, University of Minnesota researchers have developed a new set of tools that focuses on two tasks: counting apples in an orchard and measuring their diameter—both of which are key to assisting farmers in making decisions regarding labor needs and sales. Through the use of a start-up company, these new technologies can go directly from the lab to the farm.

Apples constitute about 25% of all fruit eaten in the U.S. A new platform housing data from over 100 apple varieties could shave years off the breeding process and enable data-driven assessments of how to boost the health benefits of America's favorite fruit. Developed by a team of Ohio State University scientists, the platform combines the genetics behind specific traits and information on hundreds of chemical compounds – from sugars and acids to a host of antioxidants – in the fruit that help make apples a healthful food.

By showing relationships between genetics and compounds in apple fruits known as phytochemicals, the platform has potential to take some of the guesswork, and time, out of the breeding process. It typically takes about seven years to get from mating parent varieties to the first taste test of a new kind of apple, and it could take decades to create a completely new cultivar. Additionally, complementary research on phytochemicals that may provide health benefits could give researchers a head start on studies to confirm which compounds offer the best chance to develop a more nutritious apple.

Although multiple interventions are used to reduce potential pathogens on the apple surface, there is limited information available regarding their true efficacy when performed under conditions that are common in commercial pack houses. The bacterium Listeria monocytogenes is known for contaminating produce because it can survive in many different environments. L. monocytogenes is particularly important for fresh apples, where recent outbreaks have resulted in recalls and multiple hospitalizations.

Scientists at Washington State University evaluated multiple antimicrobial sanitizers that were dispensed on apple packing lines using a spray bar set-up that is common in the industry. Sanitizers that used peroxyacetic acid-based (PAA) formulations could achieve an approximate 100-fold reduction in L. monocytogenes bacteria when they were used at an elevated temperature and under concentrations/contact times that are industry-relevant. The ability of PAA to effectively combat L. monocytogenes was further validated in both the pilot model and in multiple commercial packing lines. Because L. monocytogenes is very difficult to eliminate once established, these data provide valuable parameters for baseline sanitation efficacy, which may allow further discovery and use of alternative methods for combating foodborne pathogens.

Farm Bill Priority Areas
Food Safety, Nutrition, and Health
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