USDA Agricultural Research Service (ARS) - Northeast Area


FLC Region

Security Lab



600 East Mermaid Lane
Wyndmoor, PA 19038
United States


The Eastern Regional Research Center (ERRC) pilot plant facilities are a grouping of unique resources in Wyndmoor, PA, dedicated to greater utilization of agricultural products. At these facilities new processes developed by ARS scientists and engineers and their partners are scaled-up and new products under development are produced to support testing and evaluation programs.

Current Research Units
• Biobased and Other Animal Co-Products
• Dairy and Functional Foods
• Food Safety and Intervention Technologies
o Off Campus Worksite: Delaware State University
• Molecular Characterization of Foodborne Pathogens
• Residue Chemistry and Predictive
• Microbiology
o Off Campus Worksite: University of Maryland Eastern Shore
• Sustainable Biofuels and Co-Products

Equipment categories include:
• Numerous size reduction and sample mixing devices
• Batch and continuous chemical reactors 1 to 1000 liters
• Fermentors, sizes 1 to 300 liters
• Complete research pilot plant for dry-grind ethanol process development
• Various evaporators
• Twin screw extruders (see Dairy Products and Processes RU)
• Dryers: shelf-, freeze-, convection- and belt-types
• Distillation equipment
• Pervaporation, reverse osmosis, micro- and ultra-filtration membrane systems
• High-pressure gas extraction and fractionation systems

Unique capabilities:
• Complete mechanical design facilities, software and hardware
• Complete fabrication facilities with ability to fabricate new research equipment and new process unit operations
• Process simulation capability using Aspen+ and SuperPro Design software
• Cost estimation for known and experimental unit operations, processes and products

Unique personnel:
• Mechanical engineers
• Chemical engineers
• Equipment operators
• Chemical engineering support scientists and technicians
• Cost engineers
• Fabricators
• Mechanics

Examples of Research Support Provided:
• Bioproduct and commodity product value estimation
• Process and product cost estimation and analysis
• Process simulation using Aspen+ and SuperPro Designer software
• Simple scale-up of bench-scale reactions
• Preparation of large quantities of research products for testing purposes
• Extractions
• Filtrations
• Fermentations
• Evaporation and drying of large samples
• Simple design and fabrication of research equipment
• Process design and development
• Biofuels process development
• Evaluation of alternative wet and dry-grind ethanol processes through experimentation, simulation, and comparison to base case processes

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Fungal Volatiles to Promote Plant Growth and Increase Crop Productivity

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An Agricultural Research Service (ARS) scientist in Wyndmoor, Pennsylvania, has shown that a relatively inexpensive steam-cleaner—designed to remove wallpaper and clean outdoor grills, kitchen counters, and other household surfaces—can rid cantaloupes, and possibly other produce, of Escherichia coli, Salmonella, and Listeria more effectively than existing washes and chlorine treatments.

The technology could reduce the number of foodborne outbreaks from contaminated produce, which each year cause an estimated 1.2 million illnesses, 7,100 hospitalizations, and 134 deaths. They also generate $1.4 billion in illness-related costs according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Dike Ukuku and his colleagues at the ARS Food Safety and Intervention Technologies Unit in Wyndmoor submersed 24 cantaloupes in a bath inoculated with E. coli, Salmonella and Listeria strains, and then dried and refrigerated them at 41°F for 7 days. They then used a commercially available power steamer to steam-clean the cantaloupes by sweeping the spray nozzle across the fruit for 3 minutes. The nozzle was placed 3 inches from the cantaloupe, a distance that produced steam of 154°F at the point of contact, a temperature that was hot enough to kill surface pathogens but not damage the fruit.

The team used a 915 Wagner Power Steamer, but any steamer generating the same heat would likely produce similar results.

Some cantaloupes were cut up immediately after being steamed. Others were stored for 7 days at 41°F and then cut up.

The results showed that the steam treatment was effective at killing the pathogens. Pathogen levels were generally 1,000 times lower on the surfaces of steam-treated melons (99.9% reduction) and were undetectable on the cut-up pieces. Surface pathogen levels were about 100 times lower than those found on cantaloupes sanitized with chlorine.

The cut-up melon pieces showed no undue softening, discoloration or unwanted odors, either right after the treatment or up to 7 days later. The researchers refrigerated treated melons for 29 days to check for abnormal ripening, decay, and defects—and found none.

The technique may also be used to sanitize watermelons, honeydew melons, cucumbers and baby carrots, Ukuku said.

Ukuku realizes that consumers are unlikely to start “steam-cleaning” their produce, but his work shows that the technique could be used to sanitize produce without significantly adding to food processing costs. Processors and distributors could apply steam when cantaloupes are put into washers or as they pass along on conveyor belts during processing, he said.

The original article, which appeared in the March 2017 issue of USDA’s AgResearch Magazine, can be viewed here.

Foodborne illnesses from contaminated produce sicken 1.2 million people each year in the United States. A USDA study shows that steam-treating cantaloupes can reduce pathogens. (Photo credit: USDA)


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