Posts Tagged ‘safe produce handling’

Third Party GAP/GHP Audits and Produce Food Safety Plans

Thursday, April 26th, 2012

Gordon Johnson, Extension Vegetable & Fruit Specialist;

Produce growers in Delaware selling directly to supermarkets, food service companies, and some wholesale distributors are being required to have a third party Good Agricultural Practices and Good Handling Practices (GAP/GHP) audit by these buyers. This is to insure that good food safety practices are being used in growing, harvesting, packing, and shipping produce.

Most of these buyers are accepting the Harmonized GAP/GHP standards that the industry and the USDA have worked on together to standardize the audit process (a few buyers have other requirements).

Harmonized GAP and GHP standards can be found at:

The audit process requires that a farm create a food safety plan and then implement that plan on the farm. The grower will then choose a private food safety auditing company, the USDA, or the state department of agriculture to perform the audit during the harvesting season. They will review the records documenting that the food safety plan is being carried out and then will inspect the growing areas and packing facilities. If the farm passes the audit, this will then satisfy the buyer’s requirements.

In Delaware, the Delaware Department of Agriculture can conduct a USDA audit using the harmonized standards.

For assistance with developing a produce food safety plan for your farm, contact Gordon Johnson, Extension Fruit and Vegetable Specialist with the University of Delaware

FDA is Seeking Input Before Developing New Produce Food Safety Rules

Thursday, March 4th, 2010

Gordon Johnson Extension Fruit & Vegetable Specialist;

The Food and Drug Administration has announced that by the end of 2010, the agency will issue a proposed rule to establish safety standards for the production and packing of fresh produce. The stated goal is “to reduce the risk of illness associated with fresh produce”.

Unlike past rule making efforts where experts devise the rules and the FDA seeks comments on the proposed rules, they are asking for input beforehand. In other words, they want your guidance in developing the rules. The FDA has stated that they need “the expertise and on-the-ground knowledge of those who grow, harvest and pack fresh produce”. They further state that “Doing it this way will help (the FDA) develop the scope of the rule to reflect the realities of production and packing in produce operations”.

To seek input, the FDA has opened a docket (Federal Register notice location: to receive information before a proposed rule is written. You may input your comments electronically to the FDA by going to and entering the following in the “Keyword” field: FDA-2010-N-0085. This will take you directly to the docket, “Preventive Controls for Fresh Produce: Request for Comments”. In the far right of the screen under “Actions”, click on “Submit a Comment”. A page will come up asking for some information about you or your organization. You can then type your comment directly into the field provided and/or you can attach any related documents to your comment. Press “Submit” and then you will be able to view your comment and comments others have submitted.

If you prefer to submit written comments, write the docket number at the top of the pages in your written submissions (FDA-2010-N-0085) and mail comments to:

Division of Dockets Management
Food and Drug Administration
5630 Fishers Lane, Room 1061
Rockville, Maryland 20852

The comment period for this “Preventive Controls for Fresh Produce: Request for Comments” docket ends on May 24, 2010 so get your comments in soon.

In Delaware, the Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association will be submitting both electronic and written comments to the FDA on behalf of its members. A committee of the FVGAD is being set up to do this. Any members wishing to serve on that committee should contact Gordon Johnson, Extension Vegetable and Fruit Specialist at the University of Delaware,, phone (302) 856-7303.

FDA Has Released Draft Food Safety Guidelines for Melons, Leafy Greens, and Tomatoes

Friday, August 14th, 2009

Gordon Johnson, Extension Ag Agent, Kent Co.;

As part of the continued emphasis on improving produce food safety, the Food and Drug Administration has recently published draft guidance documents for reducing microbial food safety hazards in 3 crop groups – melons, tomatoes, and leafy greens. These publications are available for viewing at the FDA website at the following locations:
Leafy Greens

The FDA is currently accepting public comments on these guidelines. The following are some excerpts:

FDA recommends:
● Conducting environmental assessments on the topography, land history, risk of flooding, adjacent land use, and domestic animal and wildlife presence associated with the production environment, using concepts that are outlined in the GAPs Guide (to the extent that any of these environmental factors are present).

● Monitoring and reducing, to the extent possible, domestic animal, wildlife, and insect activity in melon production environments that may contaminate water and soil with human pathogens and directly or indirectly contact melons, thereby increasing the risk of product contamination.

● Evaluating whether to harvest portions of melon fields when there is evidence of unusually heavy wildlife pest infestations (e.g., presence of wildlife feces, large areas of animal tracks, or burrowing).

● Training harvest employees to recognize and report signs and evidence of wildlife pest infestations (e.g., feces) and take appropriate actions.

● Delaying harvest and performing extra washing when heavy rains have recently occurred. Heavy rains may increase the likelihood of soil-to-melon contamination.

Multiple Melon Harvests
Multiple melon harvests may increase the likelihood of melon contamination due to increased wildlife and insect pressures because of the presence in the field of melons mechanically damaged during prior harvest operations.
FDA recommends:
● Training harvest employees to recognize and not harvest melons that have mechanical damage or possible contamination from previous harvest operations.

● Evaluating ways to reduce flying insect access, to the extent possible, to animal feces and other likely sources of human pathogens that may contaminate non-harvested melons in the field.

● Evaluating ways to dispose of culled melons which reduce the potential for melon culls to serve as animal and insect pest attractant. This will reduce the potential for insect/pest-to-melon fruit contamination.

FDA recommends:
● Determining the previous usage of land. Assessing and mitigating conditions that may pose a food safety risk in and near production fields.

● Conducting an environmental assessment (e.g., considering topography, land history, near-by land use, and domestic animal and wildlife presence) including a consideration of the potential for flooding to create conditions that may pose a food safety risk.

● Locating tomato fields away from any area that may receive run-off or drainage from an animal operation or any other source of contamination that may pose a food safety risk.

● Avoiding, preventing, or minimizing run-off into the tomato field from any animal operation or other conditions that may pose a food safety risk.

● Avoiding the harvest of tomatoes in areas that have been contaminated by run-off from an animal operation or other potential source of contamination.

Tomato Equipment and Containers
FDA recommends:
● Cleaning and sanitizing any surface or equipment intended to contact fresh tomatoes (i.e., any food-contact surface), at a frequency sufficient to prevent the surface or equipment from becoming a source of contamination.

● Constructing reusable containers and food-contact equipment, and utensils of impervious materials that can be cleaned and sanitized.

● Checking any tomato containers that are received back from a packing house for cleanliness prior to use.

● Cleaning and sanitizing harvest containers, bins, food-contact equipment, and utensils at regular intervals during use (e.g., daily), or more often as needed, to remove sand, grit, dirt, and other residue.

● Establishing routine cleaning and sanitizing procedures (i.e., standard operating procedures).

● Maintaining all equipment and surfaces in such a way as to minimize the risk of contamination of, and injury to, tomatoes.

● Maintaining records of cleaning procedures and their implementation.

● Removing broken or damaged containers that are not easily cleanable from food contact use. If they are retained for other uses (e.g., trash), clearly marking them for their intended use.

Leafy Greens
FDA recommends:
● Conducting environmental assessments prior to the first seasonal planting, within one week prior to harvesting, and during harvesting operations.

● Assessing near-by land use and waterways for activities or conditions that may pose a risk of contamination such as livestock, wildlife, landfills, sewage treatment, chemical plants, or other conditions.

● Determining land history to identify microbial and chemical contamination from previous land use.

● Evaluating the risk to subsequent crop production on production acreage that has experienced recent postharvest grazing of domesticated animals.

● Evaluating production field locations and proximity to wildlife especially if the production field is isolated from other non-contiguous production areas.

● Evaluating whether heavy rains or irrigation practices may increase the likelihood of soil-to-leafy greens contamination.

Practices FDA recommends to reduce the risk of microbial contamination of leafy greens in the production environment include:

● Locating production sites (to the degree feasible) to minimize potential access by wildlife. For example, considering the proximity to water, wildlife harborage, open range lands, non-contiguous production lots or blocks, and urban centers.

● Controlling risks associated with production fields that are encroached upon by urban development.

● Considering risk factors including septic tank leaching and domestic animal fecal contamination of production fields and harvest equipment.

● Exercising care to reduce the potential for windborne soil, water or other media that may be sources of contamination to come into contact with the edible portions of leafy greens.

● Monitoring and minimizing domestic animal and wildlife activity in leafy greens fields and production environments (e.g., reducing potential harborage and standing water, and utilizing animal repellents and attractants).

● Considering whether or not to harvest any portions of a field affected by unusually heavy wildlife activity or evidence of wildlife activity (e.g., presence of wildlife feces).

● Assessing the field at the time of harvest to ensure that no new food safety risks have occurred.

● Using harvest practices such as removing outer soiled leaves and not harvesting whole soiled heads of leafy greens when excessive soil or mud builds up on leafy greens.

● Training harvest employees to recognize and report for appropriate action any evidence of wildlife activity or infestations (e.g., feces).

Water and Leafy Greens
Water used in production and harvest operations may contaminate leafy greens if it contains human pathogens and contacts edible portions of leafy greens or transmits pathogens by means of water-to-soil and soil-to-leafy greens contact. In addition, irrigation methods vary and each method may have varying potential to introduce human pathogens or promote human pathogen growth on leafy greens.
FDA recommends:
● Preparing a description of the irrigation water system. Using maps, photographs, drawings, or other means to communicate the location of permanent fixtures and the flow of the water system (including any water captured for re-use). Documenting permanent fixtures, including wells, gates, reservoirs, valves, returns and other above-ground features that make up a complete irrigation system, so as to enable location on the field. Documenting water sources and the production sites they may serve.

● Performing a sanitary survey prior to the use of water in agricultural operations to determine if the quality of water meets applicable State and local requirements, and then monitoring water quality with regular testing.

● Evaluating irrigation methods (e.g., drip irrigation, overhead sprinkler, and furrow) for their potential to introduce, support or promote the growth of human pathogens on leafy greens. Considering issues such as the potential for irrigation methods to deposit soil on the crop or cause pooled or standing water that attracts animals.

● Considering the impact of storm events on surface waters used to irrigate crops. Bacterial loads in surface water are generally much higher after a storm than normal and caution should be exercised when using these waters for irrigation.

● Considering the potential for pathogen contamination and growth when combining water from different sources (e.g., water systems that convey untreated human or animal waste should not be combined with conveyances used to deliver irrigation water).

● Storing irrigation pipes and drip tape in a manner that reduces potential pest infestations and developing procedures to ensure safe use of irrigation pipes and drip tape if a pest infestation does occur.

● Ensuring that water used on harvesting equipment or during harvesting is of appropriate microbial quality for its intended use. Testing the water source regularly to ensure that it is of appropriate microbial quality for its intended use.

● Evaluating risks of using reclaimed (primary or secondary) water, including use in operations such as road dust abatement. Reclaimed water may be subject to State and local requirements.

Water Testing for Produce Food Safety

Friday, March 27th, 2009

Gordon Johnson, Extension Ag Agent, Kent Co.;

We recently had a round of trainings on produce food safety for fresh produce growers and packers. One of the questions that has come up from these trainings is how water testing should be done and what types of tests are required.

Water is tested for certain bacterial indicator species, which show the potential for produce to become contaminated with microbes coming from animal or human feces in that water.

The following are some guidelines for growers and packers to follow.

● All water sources must be tested, including: irrigation wells, packing house wells, wells used for spray water, and surface irrigation water sources. In other words, all irrigation, spray, and wash water sources must be tested.

● Surface water is not acceptable in the packing shed; only well water should be used. Potable water is required for all employee uses (drinking, hand washing, sanitation). Well water is the preferred source for all other uses (irrigation and spray water).

● The schedule for testing should be once a year for municipal water and twice a year for well water. Surface (pond, ditch, stream or river) irrigation water sources should be tested three times a year; at the beginning of the irrigation season, at peak irrigation, and near harvest.

● For packing house water, use the following procedures to collect the water:

          ○ Run the water through the plumbing system for at least 5 minutes to flush the lines.

          ○ Obtain the samples from a spigot or faucet and ensure that water in the bottle has not contacted other surfaces that may contaminate the water such as bare hands and sleeves. Use sterile bottles supplied by the water testing laboratory you are going to use. Samples need to get to the laboratory within 24 hours.

● For irrigation water, use the following procedures to collect the water:

          ○ Run the water through the irrigation system for at least 20 min to flush the lines.

          ○ Obtain at least two samples, as microbial levels can fluctuate.

          ○ Obtain the samples from the sprinkler system (not the intake area) and ensure that water in the bottle has not contacted other surfaces that may contaminate the water such as bare hands and sleeves. Use sterile bottles supplied by the water testing laboratory you are going to use. You will need to put the samples on ice and deliver them to the laboratory within 6 hours.

The microbiological tests that are routinely done as indictors of water quality are: total coliform bacteria, fecal coliform bacteria, and E. coli. Total coliform is a measure of those bacteria that are found in the soil, in water that has been influenced by surface water, and in human or animal waste including some that may cause food borne illness. Fecal coliforms are the group of the total coliforms that are considered to be present specifically in the gut and feces of warm-blooded animals. Because the origins of fecal coliforms are more specific than the origins of the more general total coliform group of bacteria, fecal coliforms are considered a more accurate indication of animal or human waste than the total coliforms. Escherichia coli (E. coli) is the major species of concern in the fecal coliform group. Of the five general groups of bacteria that comprise the total coliforms, only E. coli does not grow and reproduce in the environment. Consequently, E. coli is considered to be the species of coliform bacteria that is the best indicator of fecal pollution and the possible presence of human pathogens.

It is important to note that these are just indicator tests and are not specific for a pathogen such as salmonella.

For well water used in the packing shed, worker drinking, washing, or worker sanitation it is best to run tests for total coliform and fecal coliform and/or E. coli at the same time when the sample is sent off. For irrigation water from surface sources, you should have water tested for total coliform and fecal coliform or E. coli. Most commonly, a combination test is done for total coliform and E. coli bacteria.

There are no clear cut levels for contamination with fecal coliforms or E. coli in irrigation water and produce safety. It depends on many factors. However, research has shown that when irrigating strawberries, irrigation water which exceeded the guideline of 100 colony-forming units (CFU) of E. coli per 100 mL of water, transferred E. coli to the berries. In research with other produce, the numbers were higher.

Based on the best currently available information, the following are some standards to apply when you receive the results of you tests:

● For overhead irrigation water source and the fecal coliform test, any samples above 200 CFU/100 ml should be viewed as contaminated and for the E. coli test, any samples above 126 CFU/100 ml should be viewed as contaminated.

● For drip irrigation water sources (non foliar contact) using the E. coli test, any samples above 576 CFU/100 ml should be viewed as contaminated.

When water samples are above these levels, efforts need to be made to find the source of contamination. Irrigation water use from these sources may need to be stopped or a water treatment system to reduce bacterial loads may need to be installed.

Some water testing laboratories that may be used are given below (other laboratories may also be available to do the tests – the list is not an endorsement of any laboratory).

630 Churchmans Road
Newark, DE 19702
Phone: 302-266-9121
Fax: 302-454-8720

51 Clark Street
Harrington, DE 19952
Phone: 302-398-4313
Fax: 302-398-4312

113 High Street
Salisbury, MD 21810
MD Phone: (410) 546-1318
DE Phone: (302) 628-8876

The Delaware Health Department does water testing for private wells. The cost for private well testing is $4.00 each for a bacterial and chemical test. Private well owners may pick up a sample form and bottle from the State Service Centers in each county or the Delaware Public Health Laboratory. Follow the directions given and return in a timely manner to the office where you received the bottle.  The Delaware Public Health Laboratory can also do water quality testing for commercial produce farms.  Contact the laboratory at (302) 223-1520 for sampling kits and procedures.   For more information go to:

Food Safety for Leafy Greens

Friday, September 5th, 2008

Gordon Johnson, Extension Ag Agent, Kent Co.;

With fall vegetable season approaching, cabbage, collards, kale, mustard, turnips, lettuce, Chinese cabbage, and other leafy greens will be harvested. The following are some considerations in the production, harvest and handling of leafy greens from the Southern Regional Fresh Produce Food Safety Training Program.

Many leafy greens (including cabbage, collards, kale, mustard, turnips, lettuce, and Asian greens) are cut by hand and packed directly in the field for the fresh market. Cabbage also may be cut by hand, loaded into a bulk container, such as a field wagon, and hauled to a packing shed for trimming, grading and packaging. Field sanitation practices are very important to reduce the spread of disease among plants and to prevent the possibility of contamination by microorganisms that are pathogenic (cause illness) to humans.

The principal food safety hazard from leafy greens is microbial contamination. Ensuring the safety of raw leafy greens begins with preventing hazards in the field.

Grazing animals on or near crop land can introduce bacteria harmful to humans into the soil. Growers should ensure that land has not been used for animal husbandry and that it is not close to animal feedlots or water runoff from grazing lands.

Incompletely composted organic fertilizers (manures in particular) may contain bacteria harmful to humans from animal or human feces. If organic fertilizers are used, they must be properly and completely composted so pathogens are not present. To avoid potential for contamination, raw manures should not be used for the production of leafy greens within that growing season, even if incorporated before planting.

Natural surface water (e.g., ditch, stream, pond) provides enough organic matter to support the growth of bacterial pathogens. It may be used with caution for irrigation but should be tested for the presence of the bacterium Escherichia coli (E. coli), which is an indicator of fecal contamination. Well water is less likely to harbor human pathogens but still should be analyzed for contamination.

Overhead irrigation is more likely to spread contamination to above-ground plant parts than is root-zone irrigation. Growers should document how water is stored, if animals are confined nearby, and if water is potable (safe to drink).

Hand-harvesting also may lead to pathogen contamination if field workers practice poor hygiene. Field crews must be trained and monitored regarding personal hygiene practices, and portable bathrooms and hand washing facilities must be provided at convenient locations in the field. The same personal hygiene precautions apply to family operations. Frequent hand washing is a key and provisions need to be made to be able to wash hands in the field.

Hand-harvesting using knives can wound produce, encouraging contamination from the soil. Knives should be routinely sanitized to keep disease inoculum from building on their surfaces and infecting sound cabbage heads or leafy greens. For best protection, place buckets of sanitizing agents at the ends of selected rows in the field. This will allow workers to sanitize their knives at regular intervals and reduce disease buildup over the course of the production day. Fresh sanitizer should be introduced throughout the work day. Routine knife sanitation is also critical for smaller farms using family labor.

Containers for harvesting fresh produce should be washed with detergent prior to use. After detergent cleaning, field bins, buckets, baskets, wheel barrows, etc., should be sanitized by using a very strong sodium hypochlorite solution dispensed from a high pressure sprayer. This should be repeated each harvest day. If wagons or trucks are used, the same procedure should be followed.

Leafy greens may be cleaned in sanitized water (75 to 100 ppm free chlorine) before marketing. Direct field-packing of boxed leaves or heads also may be done, without washing. It is critical to make sure that no dirt has contaminated the greens if doing field packing and to pack into clean boxes or containers.

Ice used to cool and preserve quality during transit can be a source of contamination. Steps should be taken to minimize ice exposure to workers, soil, and airborne dust.

If water is used in cleaning and cooling it should be chlorinated at a concentration of 75 to 100 ppm of free chlorine. Chlorination can be accomplished using a gas injection system, adding bleach, or using calcium hypochlorite tablets. Chlorination levels in the water should be monitored frequently during operation, through the use of a chlorine test kit. Water pH should be maintained between 6.5 and 7.5 to avoid having to use excess chlorine and in order to maintain recommended free chlorine levels. Excessive use of chlorine causes gassing off (which can lead to objectionable chlorine odor, irritation of workers’ skin, corrosion of equipment, and increased sanitation cost).

Information reprinted in part from “Good Agricultural Practices for the Production and Handling of Cabbage and Leafy Greens” by William C. Hurst and Darbie Granberry, Food Science and Horticultural Science Departments, University of Georgia, Athens, Georgia. This is a factsheet from the Southern Regional Fresh Produce Food Safety Training Program. Information in italics is from Gordon Johnson, Extension Agriculture Agent, UD, Kent County.

Food Safety Concerns with Fresh Produce on the Front Pages Again – Produce Safety for Growers

Friday, June 13th, 2008

Gordon Johnson, Extension Ag Agent, Kent Co.;

Salmonella related illnesses traced to fresh tomatoes have been in the news. This has prompted increased scrutiny of the safety of fresh fruits and vegetables. The suspected cause of the recent outbreak is contaminated wash water and the temperature of the wash water in packing plants. Salmonella (and other foodborne illness causing pathogens, such as E. coli) can enter produce, such as tomatoes under certain temperature conditions related to the produce and the wash water. According to the FDA, “The temperature of the wash water should be 10 degrees Farenheit warmer than the tomato temperature to prevent infiltration. Cold water causes air cells in the tomato to contract and create a vacuum drawing water into the tomato.” While we do not have any large tomato packers in Delaware, growers large and small should still be aware of ways to reduce the risk of contamination of fresh produce. Some key considerations:

● Manures and animal feces/droppings are a major source of contamination – make all efforts to avoid any contact between raw manures or animal wastes with produce.

● Irrigation water can be a source of contamination, especially ponds and streams. Well contamination is less likely, but is possible. Test irrigation sources for Coliform bacteria. Make efforts to eliminate animal access or other contamination of these water sources. Overhead irrigation is more likely a source of contamination than drip irrigation.

● Most pathogens harmful to humans are carried by other animals (fowl; reptiles; amphibians; mammals, such as dogs, cats, deer, raccoons, etc). Exclude as many animals as possible from the fields.

● Any animal materials (waste, carcasses, etc.) should be removed immediately from the field if possible (and practical).

● Workers who come in contact with live animals, animal carcasses, or animal waste materials should wash their hands before they continue working.

● Animal manure applied as fertilizer should not be applied to fields any less than 90 days before harvest for produce not in contact with the soil. Manure must be incorporated. Otherwise, manures should be composted before use to kill pathogens. Be aware of land use near the field. Avoid establishing fields near animal operations or waste handling facilities.

● Produce that falls to the ground should not be harvested for fresh market.

● Minimize animal contact in packing facilities or areas where produce is handled or stored and where produce handling equipment is stored.

● Cull out vegetables showing bruises or decay symptoms as a preventive measure. Ideally, harvest workers should not handle culls. Culls should be removed by a separate worker, if possible, so as not to contaminate sound produce.

● Containers used in the field and for produce transportation should all be kept clean until used. If any of the containers are reusable, they should be cleaned regularly with more frequent washings if they become overly soiled. Store empty containers away from non-sanitary conditions (near waste receptacles, animal-infested areas, etc.).

● If practical, harvest containers should not be allowed to touch the ground in the field (or in storage), as this may transfer pathogens from the soil to the produce.

● Any commodity that grows on or in proximity to the ground should have extra care taken to control soil contaminants, particularly at harvest time.

● Practice animal and insect control in and around packing facilities. Cleaning and sanitation of packingline equipment is critical. Clean with detergent and physical labor (such as scrubbing or pressure washing, etc.). Use sanitizers of various types to kill microbes on clean surfaces: walls, cooler coils, ceilings, etc., as appropriate.

● If using a dump tank or hydrocooling system, sanitizers (e.g., chlorine) used to reduce vegetable pathogens may help control human pathogens as well (must be labeled for this use). Wherever possible, drain and clean tanks daily. Be sure to rinse out any cleaning solutions before re-filling the tank. Vegetables should not be allowed to sit in water for extended periods of time. Monitor water temperatures. Water that is too cold can cause infiltration into vegetables.

● Keep employees who are ill away from produce. Employees who handle produce should not have open wounds or sores. Workers who handle fresh produce should wash hands frequently and hand washing should be emphasized when using toilet facilities.

● Keep produce cool to reduce pathogen multiplication.

● Keep store rooms and vehicles clean.

Information was taken from the Southern Regional Fresh Produce Food Safety Training Program.

A great source with links to publications on the topic of produce safety for growers can be found at this web site at North Carolina State University: