Food Safety Practices Guidance for Ready-to-Eat Fresh-Cut Vegetable Manufacturers
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Consumer awareness of the health benefits associated with eating fresh vegetables, combined with the increasing demand for convenient, easy-to-prepare foods, has resulted in a significant rise in the volume of Ready-to-Eat (RTE) fresh-cut vegetables being consumed. RTE fresh-cut vegetables were initially developed for the restaurant, hotel and institutional market and are now a common and very popular retail product, sold directly to the consumer for home consumption. While in the past, fresh vegetable dishes (e.g., salads) were prepared and washed at home shortly before meals, these products can now be eaten directly from the package, in some instances a week or more after being processed.
Most pathogens are not native to fresh-cut produce. Poor agricultural and manufacturing practices could introduce pathogens to fresh-cut products and thereby pose a potential hazard to consumers. Some of the microbial pathogens associated with RTE fresh-cut vegetables include Salmonella spp., Escherichia col O157:H7, Listeria monocytogenes, Shigella spp., Norovirus (Norwalk-like viruses), hepatitis A virus and protozoan parasites such as Cryptosporidium (WHO/FAO 2007). The possible sources of contamination in these products include the raw vegetables inbound for processing, the plant workers and the processing environment. When vegetables are chopped or shredded, the release of plant cellular fluids provides a nutrient-rich medium in which microorganisms can grow. The high moisture content of fresh vegetables, the lack of a thermal process to eliminate or reduce microbial pathogens and the potential for temperature-related abuse during preparation, distribution and handling further increase the risk of food-borne illness. In fact, RTE fresh-cut vegetables have been implicated in numerous outbreaks of food-borne illness.
Preventing the contamination of fresh vegetables with microbial pathogens, harmful chemical residues and/or physical contaminants is the most effective way to ensure the safety of these Ready-to-Eat products. This can be accomplished through key preventive approaches such as Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) on the farm, Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) and Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) principles being applied at the processing facility.
HACCP is a systematic approach that assesses each step in a food manufacturing process for potential hazards and identifies controls to prevent their occurrence. HACCP is recognized by regulators, industry and academia as an important food safety approach available to the food industry. Prior to the application of HACCP, an establishment should be operating in accordance with GMPs and food safety legislation. The establishment should also have the guidance of a person trained in HACCP. The GMPs (prerequisite programs) serve as the building blocks upon which a HACCP plan is built.
A HACCP system is developed following a careful review and analysis of the unique processing facility characteristics in which it is to be implemented. Chapter 1 of this document provides guidance related to hazard analysis and control of the manufacturing process, while Chapters 2 to 8 are focused on generic HACCP prerequisite programs. Operators wishing to develop their own HACCP program can use this guidance document to build a customized plan for their operation.
This document was developed as a food safety resource by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) in consultation with the Canadian RTE fresh-cut vegetable industry, Health Canada and provincial government representatives. It is hoped that this document will complement existing references and the initiatives of other agencies, to make it easier for RTE fresh-cut vegetable manufacturers to adopt a HACCP approach and ultimately produce the safest possible products.
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