Food Safety in the
A: Over the last 30 years there has been a significant increase in the consumption of raw or minimally processed fruits and vegetables, forcing processors to
source their products from outside their region or country. One potential consequence of this food supply globalization is that the quality and microbiological safety of produce may not be as strictly controlled in other countries or world regions.
These factors, along with an overall increase in consumption, have contributed to
an increase in reported foodborne outbreaks associated with fruits and vegetables.
Q: Why are fruits and vegetables so prone to dangerous microorganisms
like E. coli and Listeria?
A: Fresh produce can become microbiologically contaminated at any point from
farm to table. Environmental factors present during the time of growing can create
conditions where pathogens can survive and potentially multiply. Contamination
may occur through association with animal feces, for example, if produce is harvested near an animal grazing area or the manure was not properly composted.
Processing equipment, human handlers and shipping containers that come in contact with the contaminated produce can further disseminate the organisms if they
are not cleaned properly and regularly.
Also, because a majority of fruits and vegetables are eaten raw or are minimally
processed, they are not subject to processes that would destroy these pathogens.
Other factors, such as packaging with oxygen barriers to extend product shelf life
may also make the environment more suitable for pathogen survival. Finally, temperature
abuse and unsanitary conditions during storage
and transport may also contribute to pathogen
Q: What specific food safety concerns or
regulations impact the production process in the fruit and
A: On January 4, 2013, FDA released its proposed rule to establish standards for
growing, harvesting, packing and holding produce on domestic and foreign farms.
The new rules, crafted under the auspices of the Food Safety Modernization Act
(FSMA), seek to establish a common set of food safety practices in the production,
harvesting and marketing of fresh produce.
The proposed produce rule covers most fruits and vegetables in their raw or
unprocessed state, and focuses on identified routes of microbial contamination.
Here are some excerpts from the proposed rule:
Agricultural Water. The proposed rule would require that at the beginning of the
growing season, the agricultural water system components under a farm’s control
be inspected to identify conditions reasonably likely to introduce pathogens to pro-
duce or food-contact surfaces.
Biological Soil Amendments of Animal Origin. Biological soil amendments of
animal origin, such as composted manure, may contain pathogens of public health
concern. To address this, the rule proposes three types of measures to reduce the
risk: types of treatment, methods of application, and time intervals between the
application of a biological soil amendment of animal original and crop harvest.
Health and Hygiene. The proposed rule would require that farm personnel use
hygienic practices, including hand washing.
Domesticated and Wild Animals. Where there is a reasonable probability that
animals will contaminate produce, the rule proposes certain requirements, such as
an adequate waiting period between grazing of domesticated animals and harvesting produce from that growing area. Similarly, for working animals used where a
produce crop has been planted, farms would be required to take measures to prevent pathogens from being introduced onto the produce. In addition, farms would
be required to monitor for significant wild animal intrusion events both immediately
before harvest, and as needed during the growing season, and not harvest produce
that is visibly contaminated with animal excreta.
Equipment, Tools and Buildings. The proposed rule also would set standards for
certain equipment and tools, buildings and sanitation used for produce operations
Other areas addressed in the standards include specific rules for growing
sprouts, training farm personnel and improving recordkeeping.
Q: What safeguards should food processors put into place to ensure the
safety of their fruit and vegetable products?
A: Prevention is the key to reducing risk, and all preventive measures must be
validated before and with some regularity after implementation. Processors must
take a multi-hurdle approach to prevent contamination of fruits and vegetables. This
practice starts in the field, through the use of good agricultural practices (GAPs) and
a written plan to implement these practices. The plan should address the water, soil
amendments, environmental factors, work practices and field sanitation and must
be verified periodically through testing.
Food processing facilities then must establish and implement a food safety system that includes risk-based analysis and preventive controls for potential chemical,
physical and biological hazards. They must also implement an environmental monitoring program, and keep all process documents and records in an accessible location. Annual reviews of the food safety plan ensure the program is up to date. ◆