Produce Food Safety: 4 Strategies for Fresh Produce

Nicole Georgiev
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In the food industry, produce food safety is essential. Wholesale produce is often a restaurant and bar supply that owners and managers seek out. Just like with other food products, food safety is a big concern. 

Some might assume that fresh produce can’t be contaminated, but that’s not the case. Chemical, physical, and microbial hazards often affect produce. To prevent fresh produce contamination, you must identify these potential hazards.

It’s likely that all produce wholesale buyers need a food safety certification. The market for fresh-cut produce is growing. With that, processors of produce encounter challenges of handling large volumes of products while ensuring their safety. 

When fresh produce is processed into consumer-ready products, it can increase the chance of bacterial growth and contamination. This is because the natural exterior of the produce has been broken.

This is often seen in pre-cut and packaged fruits and vegetables. While these might be easy to use for quick meal preparation, they’re not ideal in terms of produce food safety. 

A result of the broken natural exterior, there is a release of plant cellular fluids, like when produce is shredded or chopped. This provides the means for pathogens to develop and survive if they are present. 

Understanding produce food safety, especially when it comes to wholesale goods, is crucial. This article will cover the basics of food safety and provide you with tips to ensure fresh and safe wholesale produce. By the time you’re done, you’ll understand what is wholesale produce and food safety.

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What Is Food Safety?

Food safety is enforcing best practices during the processing, handling, and distribution of food so that contaminants causing foodborne illnesses aren’t present. Food safety is crucial for food production and handling because it ensures the health and safety of the consumers. It’s an effort that comes from all parties throughout the food supply chain. 

In order to control food safety, you need to be knowledgeable about what can endanger the integrity and stability of the food. Food safety is affected by contamination in the food supply chain.

The food supply chain is a long process. It involves sourcing raw materials, production, processing, packaging, storage, wholesale distribution, and retail distribution.  

These contaminations can be caused by chemical, physical, biological, and radiological hazards. With proper inventory management and control of the food, you can prevent issues like foodborne diseases and food-related injuries. 

Why Is Produce Food Safety Important?

Produce food safety and food hygiene are important for businesses because they protect the health of consumers from food poisoning and foodborne illnesses. Food poisoning can occur when contaminated food is consumed.

Since food contamination can occur at any point of the supply chain, it’s important to follow food safety precautions at all times. This starts with the growers and wholesale suppliers and ends with the consumers or chefs. 

This contamination can be from viruses, bacteria, and other germs like Salmonella, Listeria, and E. coli. 

In 2006, food hygiene regulations were put in place to require food establishments to carry out food tasks in a safe and hygienic manner. These laws and regulations have helped ensure that food establishments follow all food safety protocols. As a result, they’ve been able to minimize the spread of contamination. Businesses have a duty to prioritize food safety as well as food hygiene when supplying food to consumers. 

What Is Temperature Control In Food Safety?

In produce food safety, temperature control is a critical element. Controlling the temperature of food ensures that the food is safe to consume. You can reduce the risk of harmful levels of bacteria in food by cooling, cooking, freezing, and reheating your food properly. 

It’s common for meat products, including wholesale meat and dairy, to be high risk. However, dry goods like rice and vegetables can also contain bacteria that grow if the food is exposed to poor temperature control. 

To prevent the growth of harmful bacteria on perishable food, it should always be kept out of the danger zone, which is considered 6-63ºC/42.8-145.4ºF. Perishable foods should be refrigerated at 8ºC/46.4ºF or below and frozen food should be kept at or below -18ºC/-0.4ºF.

Controlling the temperature of foods controls the levels of bacteria. Too much bacteria–or the wrong kind–leads to food spoilage and potential illness. Enough heat kills bacteria while colder temperatures can slow down the growth of bacteria and prevent it from reaching harmful levels. 

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Why Food Safety Is Important In the Produce Industry

Growers and processors have to follow strict safety standards to meet consumer demands for fresh produce. These standards ensure high-quality produce goods. Preventing foodborne illnesses in the consumer market protects human health and saves lives. 

Product contamination can hurt a brand’s reputation, especially if the issue results in recalls. A wholesale produce business can build trust with consumers by providing fruits and vegetables that are safe to eat. 

Salmonella, Listeria, and E. coli are some of the germs that can sometimes contaminate raw fruits and vegetables. Adequate food safety practices lead to less food contamination. 

Produce Safety Rule

In 2015, the FDA published the Produce Rule. This is also known as the Standards for the Growing, Harvesting, Packing, and Holding of Produce for Human Consumption. The rule sets standards for growing, harvesting, holding, and packing fruits and vegetables to reduce the risk of unfavorable health consequences or death. 

This regulation is in effect for both domestic and international produce growers. The details include standards for: 

  • Use of raw compost and manure
  • Control of wild and domestic animals
  • Agricultural water quality standards and testing
  • Worker health and hygiene
  • Control of equipment, buildings, and tools
  • Sanitation

4 Tips for Produce Food Safety

Wholesale produce safety is critical, and it affects every fruit and vegetable grower. This is because consumers eat food that is produced on their farms. The growers are the big decision-makers when it comes to food safety because they’re the ones responsible for day-to-day operations. 

Growers should be involved in the development of food safety plans and assessing food safety risks. Food safety practices impact the financial visibility of farms along with the health and safety of those that consume the produce. 

Contamination can occur at different stages of the crop cycle. This includes planting, growing season, harvesting, and post-harvest handling including during bulk shipping. It’s crucial to look for food safety risks during each production stage and prevent them from occurring. 

Here are four recommendations on produce food safety when selling wholesale

Pre-Harvest Best Practices

Pre-harvest can include irrigation, planting, prepping the soil, and use of fertilizers. Here are some best practices to adopt during this time: 

  • Train workers on proper hygiene
  • Ensure appropriate water quality for its intended purpose (cleaning, applying pesticides, drinking, irrigation)
  • Maintain machinery and tools
  • Ensure proper storage of chemicals
  • Manage manure and compost
  • Designate break areas in packing sheds and fields
  • Clean and sanitize the food-contact containers, surfaces, and transportation
  • Enforce proper use of hand washing stations and toilets

Best Practices for Harvesting

Harvesting is the process of gathering the useful parts of the plant once it is fully grown or developed. Here are the ideal produce food safety practices for harvesting: 

  • Pick the fruits and vegetables once they’re dry as this minimizes the amount of soil that sticks.
  • Avoid harvesting produce that falls to the ground.
  • Forgo harvesting damaged or rotten produce.
  • Minimize nesting, hiding, and habitat places for rodents and other vermin both in and around the fields.
  • Inspect unused buildings for wildlife and pest nesting.
  • Keep debris piles away from fields.
  • Remove all harvested produce from the field as soon as possible.
  • Enforce worker hygiene in the field (covered shoes, clean clothes, washed hands, and no smoking, eating, or drinking while working).
  • Train workers not to harvest produce that has been in contact with animal droppings.

Post-Harvest Best Practices

The post-harvest process includes cleaning, cooling, sorting, and packing the produce. The following are some best practices for this stage: 

  • Ensure nothing can fall into or onto the food.
  • Sanitize all food-contact surfaces on a regular basis.
  • Keep all food-contact surfaces clean including sorting tables, conveyors, brushes, rollers, racks, utensils, storage bins, and workers’ hands.
  • Ensure all cold rooms are functioning properly.

Post-Harvest Produce Handling Practices

This process involves transporting, washing, sorting, and storing the produce. This is a crucial time to practice produce food safety as the product is getting closer to the customer’s plate. During this time, you’re going to want to:

  • Keep all surfaces clean
  • Enforce worker hygiene practices
  • Use clean water
  • Keep workers well trained on all pertinent tasks
  • Ensure working areas are free of pests and rodents
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Frequently Asked Questions About Produce Food Safety

What Is the Definition of Food Safety?

The definition of food safety is handling, preparing, and storing food with the intent to prevent infection from bacteria, germs, and other contaminants. As a grower, the power is in your hands to ensure that your food is safe and healthy for customers. 

What Is the Biggest Risk In Produce Food Safety?

The biggest food safety risk in fresh produce is biological hazards and pathogenic microorganisms that can be found in the soil. Biological hazards include Salmonella, Escherichia coli (E. coli), and Listeria. Another food safety risk with fresh produce is consuming fruits and vegetables without properly washing them. 

What Is the Best Way to Store Produce?

The best way to store produce is to keep it in a dark and cool place with relatively high humidity. Avoid refrigeration but allow air circulation. Produce should be kept away from bananas, onions, and other goods that produce ethylene, which ripens fruits faster.

What Is the Produce Safety Rule?

The Produce Safety Rule refers to the Standards for the Growing, Harvesting, Packing, and Holding of Produce for Human Consumption. It’s a rule that was published by the FDA in 2015 that applies to vegetables and fruits for human consumption. The rule sets standards for the growing, harvesting, holding, and packing of produce to reduce the risk of health complications, or–in severe cases–death.

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