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Avoiding Food Poisoning
Hazards of Fruits and Vegetables
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Avoiding Food Poisoning
Hazards of Fruits and Vegetables


The number of outbreaks of human infections associated with the consumption of raw fruits, vegetables and unpasteurized
fruit juices has increased in recent years.
Since fresh-cut produce is often eaten raw and is prepared
from a raw agricultural product produced in contact with soil
with no processing step to ensure microbiological safety, there are particular concerns of food safety not encountered with processed foods. Human pathogens can and do infest fresh fruits and vegetables and have been responsible for food borne illness especially enteric pathogens: Escherichia coli 0157:H7 and Salmonella. Other pathogens include Listeria monocytogenes, Clostridium botulinum and Bacillus cereus present naturally in the soil.

Changes in agronomic, harvesting, distribution, processing,
and consumption patterns and practices have undoubtedly
contributed to this increase.
Fresh-cut fruits and vegetables are living and breathing during
and after processing, they are subject to rapid deterioration
and can support the growth of large populations of micro
organisms. Unlike other processed foods, there is no kill step
during processing and there is no treatment, other than good
temperature management, that will significantly retard
deterioration, together with Good Sanitation and Good
Manufacturing Practices (GMP's).


Examples of fresh produce and juice from which bacterial pathogens have 
   been isolated:
Pathogen Product
1. E.coli 0157:H7 - Apple juice, Cabbage, Lettuce, Cress sprouts, Cilantro.
2. Salmonella - Tomato, alfa alfa sprouts, cabbage, chili, eggplant,    spinach,fennel, parsley, strawberries,
   Watermelon,Cantaloupe etc.
3. Bacillus cereus - Cucumbers, Mustard sprouts, Soybean sprouts,
  Cress sprouts.
4. Clostridium
    botulinum
- Cabbage, Mushrooms, pepper.
5. Campylobacter
    jejuni
- Green onions, lettuce, Mushroom, Potato, Parsley,Pepper
6. Listeria
    monocytogenes
- Bean sprouts, Cabbage, Chicory, Cucumber, Eggplant,
  salad vegetables, Radish, Mushrooms, Potatoes,   Tomatoes.
7. Staphylococcus - Alfa alfa sprouts, Carrot, Onions sprouts, Radish,
  Parsley.
Sources of contamination:
Contamination of products can occur in the field, during harvesting, post harvest handling,
processing, storage or marketing. The most common sources of contamination being:
Fecal contamination of soils due to grazing animals or human waste.
Contamination from un-composted manure used as fertilizer.
Irrigation water contaminated with runoff from areas grazed by animals.
Handling by workers practicing poor personal hygiene.
Contaminated wash water in the processing facility.
Drip or splash from contaminated floors, drains, overhead pipes or cooling systems.
 
For the safety of your customers, your suppliers should provide evidence and documentation
of the microbiological safety of their fertilizers, irrigation water and worker hygienic practices.
It is an essential part of a good HACCP program which can help ensure safe raw product.

Similarly, within the production area, workers hands can be contaminated with pathogens.
All personnel that contact fresh-cut produce should be required to wear gloves and to use hand
dips (usually iodine or quaternary ammonium solutions). These requirements should apply
equally to workers, management, maintenance workers and visitors.

As for product wash water, if not properly sanitized, it can become a source of
microbiological contamination for every piece of product that passes through. It is a widespread
misconception that chlorinated wash water cleans and/or sterilizes produce as it is washed.
Chlorinated wash water does little more to clean produce than clean, non-chlorinated water.
Chlorine does sanitize the wash water and maintains a low microbiological count in the water.
In this way the water does not become a reservoir for bacteria to infest the produce. Sodium
(or sometimes calcium) hypochlorite is most commonly used in produce wash water. The
antimicrobial activity of these compounds depends on the pH of the water that should be kept
between 6.0 and 7.5 to ensure chlorine activity, the amount of organic material in the water
and, to some degree, the temperature of the water. Organic material in the water will reduce
the activity of chlorine so periodically replacing or filtering the water is important to maintain
cleanliness.

Cleanliness of all work surfaces and equipment is an important quality assurance and
product shelf life issue. Product infested with high populations of bacteria is likely to become
decayed and/or slimy sooner than similarly handled cleaner product. However, main
environmental safety issue is probably the possible presence of Listeria monocytogenes within
the processing facility. Listeria is a common environmental contaminant that thrives in cold,
wet environments. Once established, Listeria can be difficult to eliminate and constant sanitation
and testing are necessary to prevent its establishment. Listeria is most likely to be found in
drains, refrigeration drip pans and any place where cold water accumulates and stands.
A comprehensive environmental sanitation program may include specific swab tests for Listeria
and vigorous sanitation of all areas where Listeria is likely to be found. Again, prevention is the
best defence against disaster.

 
Recommendation for handling some fresh-cut produce:
Cantaloupes/melons: scrub the skins with water and a brush before you cut them. (If you
do not, cutting them could transfer pathogens from the rind to the flesh).
Berries, lettuce, and other non scrubbable fruits and vegetables: wash them with fast running
water. The friction of running water helps remove bacteria. That's better than soaking.
Wash fruit even if you plan to peel it. If there are microbes on the peel, they can contaminate
the rest of the fruit when you peel it.
Eat only cooked sprouts.
Recommended Storage Temperature, Relative Humidity (R.H), And Storage Life
    For Fresh Fruits And Vegetables:
Fruit/Veg. Temperature
(Centigrade)
R.H
(%)
Storage Period Suggested Method To
Extend Preservation
Asparagus 0 95-100 2-3 weeks Freezing/Canning
Broccoli 0 95-100 10-14 days Freezing/Canning
Brussel sprouts 0 95-100 3-5 weeks Freezing/Canning
Carrot (mature)     0 98-100 7-9 months Freezing/Canning/Pickling
Eggplant 8-12 90-95 7 days Canning
Okra 7-10 90-95 7-10 days Freezing/Canning/Pickling
Peas, green 0 95-100 1-2 weeks Freezing/Canning
Potatoes 3-4 90-95 5-10 months Canning
Spinach 0 95-100 10-14 days Freezing/Canning
Tomatoes(ripe) 8-10 90-95 4-7 days Freezing/Canning
Tomatoes(green) 13-21 90-95 1-3 weeks Pickling
Water melon 10-15 90 2-3 weeks Freezing
Muskmelon(full slip) 0-2 95 5-14 days Freezing
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