Information for growers, processors, retailers, and consumers that will help to ensure food safety and quality.
Fresh leafy green produce must be handled with care in order to not only assure product quality, but also safety. The more damage that is done to the product, the greater the chance deep penetration of microbes will occur. Leafy green vegetables are especially susceptible to damage due to their irregular shape. For this reason it is important that the harvesting blades always be sharpened to reduce the damage a blunt blade can cause.
It is also important that chlorinated water is applied by either submersion or spraying the product. If the surface is covered in dirt, the sanitizer will loose contact time with the product so an initial rinsing step is necessary. If the water is allowed to get too dirty, conditions become too basic to sanitize the produce and the water must be changed. A chart showing the ideal pH for chlorinated water can be used to assure that an effective pH is maintained.
Home growers should be aware of the contamination risks associated with small scale operations. The same hazards that apply to commercial growers are also present for home growers. Chlorinated water should only be used to sanitize produce if the chlorine source is labeled "food-grade". If the product is not food-grade it should not be used under any circumstances to sanitize fresh produce.
Below are some websites to aid fresh produce growers
- Ohio Produce Growers and Marketers Association
- FDA processing standards for fresh-cut fruits and vegetables
- FDA processing standards for leafy greens
Processors have a responsibility to the consumer to assure they have properly sterilized their products. It is the hope of the Fresh Produce Safety Initiative, that we might inspire a decision to undertake a safer sanitation method. For this reason, much weight is placed on the practicality of a technique. As the project continues, a variety of feasible sanitation alternatives will become available and workshops will be held to demonstrate these alternatives. For the commonly recognized standards, as written by the FDA, see the below links.
From the time the product is initially cooled it should remain cooled. Refrigerated shipping trucks deliver produce to the retainer cold, and it is the retailers job to keep it that way till it leaves with the customer. Temperature fluctuations can have detrimental effects on fresh produce, causing increased respiration rates, moisture loss, and microbial activity. Leafy greens should be held at approximately zero degrees Celsius and 95% relative humidity at all times.
Once the consumer purchases the fresh produce, it inevitably has less than ideal storage conditions. Typically, household refrigerators only cool at around four degrees Celsius and some run even warmer. Additionally, if the product was packaged to reduce respiration or prevent moisture loss, the barrier is destroyed soon after purchasing. If the produce was contaminated or has been subjected to a contaminant from the consumer, these conditions are ideal for psychotrophic bacteria to grow. Finally, consumers should always check the expiration date and be sure to throw out anything that has expired.