Fresh cut produce advisory calls for safety standards

By Ahmed ElAmin

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Food and drug administration Foodborne illness Food safety

Fresh-cut produce processors should immediately implement
international food safety standards to prevent the contamination of
their products, according to a new regulatory guidance.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued the advisory yesterday in the wake of outbreaks of foodborne diseases from spinach and lettuce. An ongoing disease outbreak from Salmonella in peanut butter from ConAgra has only added to the woes of the beleaguered industry. The FDA called on the processors to implement the Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) system throughout their supply chains. The use of HACCP is a requirement in the meat-processing sector. The international safety standard is designed to prevent, eliminate, or reduce to acceptable levels the microbial, chemical, and physical hazards associated with food production. Most fresh-cut fruits and vegetables are often sold to consumers in a ready-to-eat form. Andrew von Eschenbach, the FDA commissioner of food and drugs said the guidance would help in the process of regaining consumer confidence in fresh-cut products. "Americans are eating more fresh-cut produce, which we encourage as part of a healthy diet,"​ he said. "But fresh cut-produce is one area in which we see foodborne illness occur. Offering clearer guidance to industry should aid in the reduction of health hazards that may be introduced or increased during the fresh-cut produce production process."​ Processing produce into fresh-cut product increases the risk of bacterial contamination and growth by breaking the natural exterior barrier of the produce by peeling, slicing, coring, or trimming the produce with or without washing or other treatment, the FDA noted. The guidance is meant as a complement to the FDA's Current Good Manufacturing Practice regulations for food. Specifically, it deals with the production and harvesting of fresh produce and provides recommendations for fresh-cut processing, including procedures relating to personnel health and hygiene, training, building and equipment, and sanitation operations. It also deals with fresh-cut produce production and processing controls from product specification to packaging, storage and transport. The guide also provides recommendations on recordkeeping and on recalls and tracebacks. Other recommendations deal 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. The measures are being brought in to stem a tide of recent disease outbreaks linked with produce. This year ConAgra was forced to recall Peter Pan and Great Value branded peanut butter products linked to a contaminated plant in Georgia. The products are linked to a salmonella outbreak that sickened at least 425 people in 44 states. More cases are being found as time goes by. The company expects the recall will cost it up to $60m. Meanwhile an outbreak of E. coli in September last year was traced back to packaged cut spinach originating from California. The outbreak killed three people and sickened more than 200 people across the US. The outbreak has since been traced back to a 50-acre spinach plot. The contaminated strain has been found in a nearby stream and in cattle feces and in wild pigs, officials said. During November to December last year lettuce contaminated with E. coli was blamed for infecting at least 48 Taco Bell customers in five states.

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