Produce Food Safety | 4 mins read

Food Safety and Produce- What to Know to Avoid Contamination

food safety and produce what to know to avoid contamination
Dakota Sheetz

By Dakota Sheetz

To shift the attention from merely reacting to foodborne illnesses or contamination events, towards developing a system to prevent such situations, FSMA has included the Produce Food Safety rule.

What is the Produce Safety Rule?

The Food Safety Modernization Act comprises of seven basic regulations, each of which has an enormous impact on the complex and vast system of food creation, processing, and delivery network.

These measures are responsible for providing consumers with a constant supply of nutritious and safe food.

Out of these laws established by the FSMA, Standards for safe growing, harvesting, packing, and holding of produce for consumption is one of the most critical ones for fresh produce growers. Simply named as the Produce Safety Rule, this law presents science-based minimum safety standards of food for dealing with vegetables, fruits, sprouts, and mushrooms for consumption.

This rule includes criteria to meet in several food-related departments, including the laws for-

  • Employee hygiene, health, and training
  • Agricultural water used for growth and post-harvest purposes
  • Wild and domestic animals
  • Changes made to biological soil (e.g. manure, compost, etc.)
  • Sanitation of tools, equipment, and food facilities
  • Production of sprouts

When a certain type of produce-activity or a farm is covered under this law, it means that farmers or growers who meet the coverage criteria will have to fulfill the food safety standards established by the regulation.

This rule is of utmost importance in ensuring the safety of every bite, and to prevent the foodborne illnesses that might cause serious consequences for public health and overall food business.

Foodborne Illness Outbreaks From Produce

There are various sorts of foods like poorly handed vegetables, fruits, dairy products, and meats that can be the cause of foodborne illness outbreaks.

A recent report from U.S. Congressional Research Office revealed that from 1998 to 2016, the annual number of foodborne illness outbreaks stretched from 30 to 60, and resulted in 900 to almost 3000 patients per year.

There are various examples of such outbreaks that led to the need for a standard of procedure regarding food handling.

In 2011, Colorado faced almost 140 illnesses and 180 death cases resulting from the bacterium Listeria found in cantaloupes. In Northwest Oregon, strawberries became the cause of E. coli contamination spread. However, it was quite hard to track them since they were further sold to numerous farm stands. This resulted in fifteen ill people and one death case.

In 2012, 28 people fell ill in Massachusetts after consuming spinach and spring mix comprising of E. coli infection. Turkey also faced the outbreak case in 2013 when 162 people became ill and 71 people were admitted to hospitals due to the consumption of pomegranate seeds contaminated with hepatitis A.

In Mexico, Cyclospora on cilantro caused 631 sick people.

In short, mishandling food can result in the following-

  • Numerous serious patients
  • Too many death casualties
  • Contaminated produce may reach other countries
  • The source might be challenging to find
  • Uncontaminated or safe fruits and vegetables might be blamed

Tips for Produce Safety

tips for produce safety 3385

As mentioned earlier, contaminated foods can lead to several problems which is why it is advised to take such steps that prevent any harsh consequences beforehand. To ensure the thriving health of consumers, it is imperative to follow the safety rules while handling food.

The following are some of the tips for safe produce-

Careful Buying

While shopping, one needs to be watchful of everything. The fruits and vegetables should not be damaged or bruised. The precut, packaged or bagged foods such as bagged salad vegetables or half cut watermelon should be picked from a refrigerated area.


The raw meat, seafood, or poultry should be kept separate from vegetables and fruits in bags.

Appropriate Storage

The quality and freshness of food also depend on proper storage. One needs to know the right temperatures for all types of fruits and vegetables. For instance, the unpreserved fruits like berries should be refrigerated at almost 40 F or below.

Apart from that, all precut and packaged foods should be refrigerated as soon as possible after buying.

Proper Separation

It is important to keep fruits and vegetables separated from raw meats, and also from the utensils. One needs to wash the cutting boards and all the dishes used for raw meats before using them for fresh produce. This will keep any contamination on uncooked products completely separated, and ensure safe food handling and consumption.

Safe Preparation

Food preparation should be done with safety in mind. From washing hands before touching produce to keeping all cooking equipment cleaned, each step requires special focus. The fruits and vegetables should be washed thoroughly and any damaged parts should be cut off. However, using detergent to clean produce is not recommended.

Conclusion

  • The Produce Safety Rule refers to the bare minimum safety standards based on science for growing, harvesting, packing, and holding of fruits, vegetables, mushrooms, and sprouts.
  • This rule includes the standards for employee's health condition and hygiene, agricultural water, domestic and wild animals, amendments made to the soil, sanitation levels, and production of sprouts.
  • Mishandling food can cause innumerable deaths and sick cases, contaminated produce being transported to other countries, uncontaminated foods being blamed, and the difficulty in locating the root cause.
  • Some of the major steps towards produce safety are careful shopping of fruits and vegetables, proper storage at appropriate temperatures, keeping the raw meat and fresh produce separated, washing hands and all the produce before cooking, and keeping the food facilities and utensils sanitized.