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Produce Safety Bite: Packing & Storing

October 1, 2021
A person wearing a black long sleeve top and a navy blue apron sorts tomatoes into black plastic crates on a table in a barn.

Food safety tips for fruit & vegetable growers

By Ollie Cultrara, VT Agency of Agriculture, Food & Markets 

Produce safety means protecting fruits and vegetables from becoming contaminated with harmful pathogens. Managing packing and storage areas properly helps maintain the safety and quality of your product. 

Keep it tidy

Routinely clean, and when necessary, sanitize direct food contact surfaces. Clear out organic matter and standing water on floors. To prevent conditions where pathogens can thrive, remove debris from drains, and consider sanitizing drains regularly. Use low pressure when spraying down equipment or surfaces to avoid spreading potential pathogens through back-splash and aerosols. 

Pests 

Deter rodents, birds, and insects by removing culls and garbage, mowing around buildings, keeping doors closed, and repairing cracks and holes. Hardware cloth can keep rodents from chewing through walls, while netting or spikes can prevent birds from roosting. If using baited traps, consider placing traps along the outside of buildings to avoid attracting pests indoors. Monitor traps regularly and take additional precautions if scouting indicates a potential infestation. Keep pallets and containers at least one foot away from walls to discourage pest activity and for easier scouting. 

Containers & packaging 

Store containers and food packaging off the ground in a clean, dry, and protected area. If you re-use containers that are difficult to clean, like wax boxes, use clean single-use food grade  liners and throw out containers that are visibly worn or damaged. Keep harvest containers off the ground as much as possible to avoid bringing extra soil into the packing area.  

Coolers 

Water can easily spread pathogens. Protect produce from standing water as well as drip from surface condensation and overhead pipes or fixtures. Cooler floors, walls, and ceilings should be made from easily cleanable materials and should be cleaned and when necessary, sanitized, on a routine basis. The UVM Extension Produce Safety Team (producesafety@uvm.edu) can help you optimize coolers to maintain product quality while minimizing food safety risks. 


Next steps 

The Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) Produce Safety Rule (PSR) sets a standard for preventing contamination during packing and holding of produce. Whether or not your farm is subject to the PSR requirements, the Vermont Agency of Agriculture’s Produce Program can help you take the next step in developing a culture of food safety on your farm. Contact the Vermont Produce Program at AGR.FSMA@vermont.gov or (802) 461-5128. For more information, visit our Produce Safety Resources page.

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