Safe transportation of food from farm to table is the goal food processors, packers, shippers and distributors aim for every day. The U.S. FDA recently released a new guidance document on good agricultural, management and food safety hazard practices for the growing, harvesting, washing, sorting, packing and transportation of fruits and vegetables.
Before you pack the next shipment to a customer, read how to safeguard the food from harmful pests and pathogens. Establish and follow these pest management and food safety protocols.
Pest Management Practices
Pests can damage produce and spread harmful diseases including E. coli, salmonella and listeria. Sanitation and exclusion needs to be a component of an integrated pest management (IPM) program in fresh produce and vegetable packing facilities:
- Keep packing areas clear of waste, litter, improperly stored garbage, old/inoperative equipment, etc.; keep grass trimmed so it does not attract pests.
- Remove and clean product or food waste that can attract pests.
- Maintain adequate surface drainage to reduce pest breeding sites.
- Inspect all areas of the facilities for evidence of pests or their droppings. Moderate the availability of food, water and harborage to pests.
- Remove dead or trapped birds, insects, rodents and other pests from bait stations promptly to avoid attracting more pests.
- Clean any surfaces soiled by pests or wildlife.
- Eliminate pest nesting and harborage areas.
- Exclude pests from facilities by denying them access using door sweeps, screens, wind curtains and traps. Seal holes in walls, doors, flooring, etc.
- Maintain a pest control log that includes inspection dates, reports and steps taken to eliminate any problems.
- Work with your pest management service provider to establish frequent monitoring of affected and treated areas to assess your program’s effectiveness.
Everyone in the transportation chain needs to communicate and take responsibility to maintain quality and help reduce the potential for contamination.
Cross-contamination from other foods, non-foods and surfaces can occur during loading, unloading, storage and transportation. Wherever produce is transported and handled, the sanitation conditions should be evaluated at each step:
- Ensure all transportation vehicles are kept maintained and cleaned.
- Before loading produce, inspect trucks and/or transport cartons for cleanliness, odors and obvious dirt or debris.
- Ensure any prior load carried in the transport vehicle does not cause a contamination risk. For example, a truck that recently transported animals or animal products would increase the risk of contaminating fresh produce if not well-cleaned before produce is loaded.
- Maintain proper temperatures for both quality and safety of fresh produce.
- Ensure transporters are aware of temperature requirements and work with operators to ensure adequate temperature control from loading to receiving.
- Avoid mixed loads with incompatible refrigeration requirements.
- Load produce in trucks or transport cartons to minimize damage and reduce potential of contamination.
- Ensure loading allows proper refrigerated air circulation.
- Ensure the loading/unloading workers practice good hygiene and sanitation practices.
- Product inspectors, buyers and other visitors should also comply with established hygienic practices, such as thoroughly washing their hands before inspecting produce.