Food Safety: In Facilities
Last month, we start a series of articles on food safety. In that article we cover the general definition of food safety and how in the field we implement the best-known practice to preclude any outbreaks, recalls, or food-borne illness. In this article will cover the practices used in a facility to protect you and your family. We thank megan@the producenerd.com for compiling this information in a concise manner.
Storage and distribution centers, cooling facilities, packinghouses, and processing operations all fall under the facility category. However, although there are more criteria to follow at the processing level, all of the food safety areas still need to be covered at all levels.
Pest Control – Pest control programs need to be in place and effectively able to keep pests from the product, packaging and any equipment. This includes using traps that are suitable for the facility and the crops contained therein.
Cross-contamination – The facility should be set up so that there is no potential source of cross-contamination. An example of this is to keep processed products in a different area of the facility so that they do not come into contact with raw product. This also covers areas of the facility that might be a cause for concern, such as the rotation of packaging materials (first in, first out), any condensation dripping from the ceiling fans, cleanliness, etc.
Equipment Sanitation – This pertains to both food contact and non-food contact equipment, so the equipment that either comes into direct contact with the product or does not come into contact with the product. They need to be washed and sanitized thoroughly on a regular basis in order to prevent any sort of contamination to the product.
Temperature Management – For those crops that require cold storage, which is commonly required, the crops should be kept at the proper temperature. Those crops that are not processed, require cold storage for a longer shelf-life and to prevent pathogen growth. (There are a lot of pathogens whose growth can be stalled when exposed to colder temperatures.) For those products that are processed, they must be stored at colder temperatures to prevent pathogen growth. Not only will it affect the product shelf-life, but since the product is cut or has been altered in some way, pathogen growth is exponential at that point. It is the same reason that we have to keep cut fruit in the fridge, instead of out on the counter.
Sanitation – The facility should be maintained in a clean and organized manner. All cleaning supplies and materials should be labeled and separated based on their use, the shipping area/eating area/restrooms should all be maintained in a clean condition, all floor drains should be clean and where they are needed, the garbage area should be maintained, etc.
Testing – The facility should have a testing program in place, that tests the equipment, the water used, and potentially the product for pathogen contamination. This is important to verify cleaning and sanitation and to ensure that the product ran through the facility that gets sent out does not pose a food safety risk to the public.
Worker Hygiene – Just like with field workers, this is one of the most important food safety steps because the workers come into direct contact with the product. At the facility level, the workers wear more protective outer garments (e.g., gloves, aprons, etc.) than at the field level, which also creates an importance of the hygiene practices in place for the workers and for their outer garments. Worker hygiene includes hand washing, sanitizing hands and gloves, foot dips, washing outer garments and having a control procedure in place so that workers do not take them home and that they are all washed on a regular basis in the same way, eating in a designated area, etc.
Ultimately, the last thing that any company wants to be associated with is a food safety outbreak or recall, especially if it results in illnesses and/or deaths. Not only do they have to deal with the repercussions that arise from that, but they also lose customer loyalty and can potentially impact the entire industry for the affected crop.
Our growers and shippers have your and your family’s health at the forefront of any food safety protocol. We are fortunate to have so many local growers and shippers here who are responsible and caring people.
Food safety is a top priority for all IVVGA Members.