Archived - Code of Practice for Minimally Processed Ready-to-Eat Fruit and Vegetables
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The health benefits associated with consumption of fresh produce combined with the on-going consumer trend toward consuming prepared and/or ready-to-eat foods have contributed to an increase in the popularity of minimally processed ready-to-eat fruit and vegetables.
The availability of affordable minimally processed ready-to-eat fruit and vegetables has moved the preparation step of these products from the consumer's home to processing establishments and retail. Although chemical and physical hazards are of concern; such as the presence of agricultural chemicals and food additives above the maximum residue limits or the presence of metals and other injurious particles; the hazards specific to minimally processed ready-to-eat fruit and vegetables reside mainly with microbial contaminants.
Some of the microbial pathogens associated with fresh fruit and vegetables include Listeria monocytogenes, Salmonella spp., Shigella spp., enteropathogenic strains of Escherichia coli, Hepatitis A virus, and the protozoans Cryptosporidium, Cyclospora and Giardia. The possible sources of contamination involve the incoming raw fruit and vegetables from fields and/or greenhouse of conventional or organic productions, workers hygiene and handling practices, and the condition of the processing environment and equipment used to minimally process fruit or vegetables. When fruit or vegetables are minimally processed (for example chopped or shredded), the release of plant cellular fluids provides a nutritive medium in which microorganisms can grow. The high moisture content of fresh fruit and vegetables, neutral pH,, the lack of further "kill step" to eliminate microbial pathogens, and the potential for temperature abuse during preparation, distribution and storage, further intensify the risk of food-borne illness. In addition, the increased time and distance from harvesting, processing to final point of consumption of certain fresh fruit and vegetables may contribute to microbial growth and subsequently contribute to increased risks of food-borne illness.
In response to the increased consumption of minimally processed ready-to-eat fruit and vegetables and the risks of food-borne illness associated with these products, this code of practice has been updated to reflect current industry's best practices and Codex Alimentarius recommendations for the minimally processed ready-to-eat fruit and vegetables. This code does not guarantee the production of safe minimally processed fresh fruit or vegetables; rather, it provides a sound basis for risk mitigation and hygienic production, and is subject to change as additional scientific information becomes available.
This code is intended to provide guidance to the Canadian domestic establishments and importers sourcing fresh-cut products from foreign suppliers. As there are various operations and methods available to minimally process these products, a general approach has been taken in developing this code. It may not cover all possible options of implementing preventative measures to minimize product contamination. Alternative approaches may be used for specific operations to adequately minimize and control food safety hazards. Industry is encouraged to use the general recommendations of this code in order to comply with Canadian regulatory safety requirements.
This code of practice has been developed for raw fruit and vegetables that have been minimally processed (i.e. peeled, sliced, chopped or shredded) prior to being packaged for sale in Canada. Applicable products include but not limited to: shredded lettuce, shredded cabbage, mixed leafy vegetable salads, broccoli florets, peeled baby carrots, veggie kebobs, cut melon, sliced apples, peeled and cored pineapple. Packaging includes single serving containers (e.g., sealed pouches or plastic trays), larger consumer or institutional size packages and bulk containers. With the possible exception of the addition of dressing or croutons by the end-user, these types of products do not require further preparation before consumption.
Part I of this code outlines good agricultural practices (GAP) for the primary production and harvesting of fresh fruit and vegetables. It is important to adhere to GAP and good manufacturing practices (GMP) to minimize and control microbial, chemical and physical hazards through all stages of food chain continuum from primary production to minimal processing in order to ensure the safety of minimally processed ready-to-eat fruit and vegetables.
Part II of this code deals with prerequisite programs, which assist in controlling the likelihood of introducing food safety hazards to the product through the work environment and operational practices. Part III deals with process controls, which are the factors during processing that need to be controlled to ensure the safety and integrity of the product. It is important to assess the recommendations in this code individually and, when necessary, consider alternative approaches that may be more appropriate to particular operations in the achievement of general safety objectives.
Minimally processed ready-to-eat fruit and vegetables must conform with sections 4 and 7 of the Food and Drugs Act. Subsection 4. (1) states that: "No person shall sell an article of food that has in or on it any poisonous or harmful substance; is unfit for human consumption; consists in whole or in part of any filthy, putrid, disgusting, rotten, decomposed or diseased animal or vegetable substance; is adulterated; or was manufactured, prepared, preserved, packaged or stored under unsanitary conditions." Section 7 states that: "No person shall manufacture, prepare, preserve, package or store for sale any food under unsanitary conditions."
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