On-farm food safety tips for fruit & vegetable growers
By Ollie Cultrara, VT Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets
You’re already preparing equipment, tools, and buildings for the growing season. While you’re at it, think ahead to prevent contamination of produce with pathogens that could get someone sick.
- Identify food contact surfaces. Think like a vegetable: from field to farm gate, what parts of tools and equipment touch produce? A food contact surface is any surface that comes in direct contact with a crop during or after harvest, including knives, mechanical harvesters, harvest and storage containers, barrel or brush washers, grading belts, and packaging. Don’t forget things that touch water or ice that contacts produce, like dunk tanks or ice bins.
- Inspect and maintain. Check the conditions of food contact surfaces you identified. Are they designed and maintained to be easily cleaned? Are there cracks or seams that accumulate dirt, food particles, and microorganisms? As appropriate, repair or replace items and infrastructure to make sure you can clean, and if necessary, sanitize them.
- Set yourself up for success. Create cleaning and sanitizing routines that work for your farm.
- Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) explaining exactly when and how tasks like cleaning and sanitizing harvest bins should be performed help train employees and maintain consistency. Post SOPs nearby for quick reference. Need a sample SOP? Contact the UVM Extension Produce Safety Team at email@example.com.
- Restock cleaning supplies like brushes, detergents, and sanitizers that are labeled for use on food contact surfaces.
- Make dedicated locations for clean and dirty items to help identify what is ready to use and what still needs to be cleaned.
- Recordkeeping helps you make sure cleaning happens as intended. Keep your cleaning log (customizable templates are available), clipboard, and pen nearby for convenience.
The Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) Produce Safety Rule (PSR) includes requirements for Equipment, Tools, Buildings, and Sanitation. Do you have questions about produce safety or whether your farm is subject to the PSR? The Vermont Produce Program can help you take the next step in building a culture of produce safety on your farm. Get in touch with our team at AGR.FSMA@vermont.gov, (802) 461-5128, or agriculture.vermont.gov/produceprogram.