To minimize microbial food safety hazards common to the processing of most fresh-cut fruits and vegetables sold to consumers in a ready-to-eat form, The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) published a draft guidance document for producers of fresh-cut produce entitled “Guide to Minimize Microbial Food Safety Hazards of Fresh-cut Fruits and Vegetables.”
“Fresh cut produce is the fastest growing sector of the fresh produce industry. This document should help to improve safety by providing clearer guidance on how to reduce health hazards that are potentially introduced during the production process,” said Acting FDA Commissioner Dr. Andrew von Eschenbach.
Processing produce into fresh-cut produce increases the risk of bacterial contamination and growth by breaking the natural exterior barrier of the produce by peeling, slicing, coring, trimming, or mashing with or without washing or other treatment before being packaged for consumption. Examples of fresh-cut products are shredded lettuce, sliced tomatoes, salad mixes (raw vegetable salads), peeled baby carrots, broccoli florets, cauliflower florets, cut celery stalks, shredded cabbage, cut melons, sliced pineapple, and sectioned grapefruit.
This draft guidance discusses the production and harvesting of fresh produce and provides recommendations for fresh-cut processing in several areas– (1) personnel health and hygiene, (2) training, (3) building and equipment, (4) sanitation operations, and (5) fresh-cut produce production and processing controls from product specification to packaging, storage and transport. The final chapters provide recommendations on recordkeeping and on recalls and tracebacks. The guide complements FDA’s Current Good Manufacturing Practices regulations by providing specific guidance on the processing of fresh-cut produce.
In the draft guidance, FDA recommends that processors encourage the adoption of safe practices by their partners throughout the supply chain, including produce growers, packers, distributors, transporters, importers, exporters, retailers, food service operators, and consumers, to ensure that the processor’s efforts will be enhanced. These practices include:
Establishing a company policy that employees report any active case of illness to supervisors before beginning work and training;
Training supervisors to recognize typical signs/symptoms of infectious disease; maintain the proper first aid to protect and cover any wound; and not allow an employee to work with any aspect of fresh or fresh-cut produce, processing equipment or tools until the wound has healed and/or the infectious disease has been treated.
The guidance also recommends that fresh-cut processors consider a preventive control program such as the Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) system to build safety into the processing operations for fresh-cut fruits and vegetables. HACCP is a prevention-based food safety system designed to prevent, eliminate, or reduce to acceptable levels the microbial, chemical, and physical hazards associated with food production.
FDA believes awareness of the common risk factors discussed in this guidance and implementation of preventive controls determined by a firm to be appropriate to its individual operations will enhance the safety of fresh-cut fruits and vegetables.
Consumers can reduce their risk of illness from fresh-cut produce by following safe handling practices such as refrigerating the product after purchase; using only clean hands, utensils or dishes in preparing the product; and discarding the product when the “use by” date has expired.