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Archived - Code of Practice for Minimally Processed Ready-to-Eat Fruit and Vegetables

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This page was archived due to the coming into force of the Safe Food for Canadians Regulations. Archived information is provided for reference, research or record-keeping purposes only. It is not subject to the Government of Canada Web Standards and has not been altered or updated since it was archived. For current information visit Food.

Table of Contents

Introduction

Background

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.

Scope

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."

Part I Good Agricultural Practices

Microbial, chemical and physical contamination may occur during the primary production and harvesting of fresh produce. The safety of minimally processed ready-to-eat fruit and vegetables is highly dependent upon the degree of preventative measures used by primary producers to prevent contamination. Growers should implement GAP to minimize risks of microbial, chemical and physical contamination during the primary production and harvesting of fresh produce. The general aspects of GAP contributing to the safety of fresh produce include the following:

Land Usage

Previous and current use of land and adjoining sites should be evaluated (e.g., presence of nearby housing, feedlots, toxic waste site, etc.) to identify potential sources of produce contamination such as agricultural chemicals, fecal and/or microbial contamination or other hazards. Appropriate steps should be taken to prevent the access of farm and wild animals to the growing sites of fresh produce to avoid potential fecal contamination of the soil and crop and to reduce the risk of microbial contamination.

Natural Fertilizer

The use of natural fertilizers (e.g., manure, organic materials, slaughter wastes, sewage sludge, etc.) in the production of produce should be appropriately managed (e.g., maximize the time between application and harvest) and treated (e.g. composting, pasteurization, heat drying) to limit the potential for microbial and chemical contamination.

Agricultural Water

Water used for irrigation and application of pesticides and fertilizers is a potential source of contamination as it may contain microbial pathogens, heavy metals and other chemicals. Growers should evaluate the source (e.g., well, open canal, ponds, reservoir, re-used irrigation water, etc.), quality of water and how and when it is used on farm, as well as monitor its safety to prevent and/or control potential sources of contamination. Growers should keep records of agricultural water monitoring and testing.

Agricultural Chemicals

Growers should only use agricultural chemicals which are approved for the cultivation of the specific produce and should use them according to manufacturer's instructions for the intended purpose. Growers should keep records on agricultural chemical applications (e.g., agricultural chemical used, rate and date of application, etc.).

Harvester and Handler Health and Hygiene

Hygiene and health requirements should ensure that personnel who come directly or indirectly into contact with produce are not likely to contaminate produce. People known or suspected to be carriers of a disease or illness likely to be transmitted through produce should not be allowed access to areas of the fields or indoor premises where there is a likelihood of contaminating produce. To ensure good personal hygiene, growers should provide toilets and hand washing facilities easily accessible to farm workers. All employees should be trained to follow good hygienic practices and proper hand washing technique. Records should be kept documenting employee training.

Harvesting

Diseased, damaged, bruised or overripe fruit or vegetables could be susceptible to microbial contamination and therefore should not be harvested. At the time of harvesting, produce should be inspected for the presence of physical contaminants such as stones, pieces of wood, metals or glass, spiders and insects. These and any other foreign materials should be removed prior to shipment of produce to processing establishments.

Transportation and Storage

Vehicles for transporting produce and storage facilities should be suitable for produce and adequately cooled. Containers, vehicles, and storage facilities should be cleaned and sanitized regularly and secured from pests (rodents, insects, etc.) to minimize risks of contamination. Transportation of incompatible foods, materials and animals with fresh produce should be avoided to prevent contamination. Records should be kept documenting the cleaning and sanitation of transport conveyances and storage facilities.

Part II Pre-Requisites

1. Processing Establishment

1.1 Location

Establishment should not be located in areas where the presence of potentially harmful substances would lead to unsafe finished product.

Potential sources of contamination need to be considered when deciding where to locate processing establishment as well as the effectiveness of any reasonable measures that might be taken to protect food. In particular, establishment should be located away or protected from:

1.2 Premises and Rooms

1.2.1 Design and Layout

Building interiors and structures should permit good hygienic practices, including protection against cross-contamination between and during operations.

1.2.2 Internal Structures and Fittings

Structures within a processing establishment should be soundly built of durable materials for proper maintenance, cleaning and, where appropriate, sanitation.

In particular the following specific conditions should be adhered to, where necessary, to protect the safety of food:

1.2.3 Food Contact Surfaces

Food contact surfaces should be constructed of appropriate materials and be maintained in a manner to prevent contamination of food.

1.2.4 Lighting

Adequate natural or artificial lighting should be provided to operate in a hygienic manner.

1.2.5 Air Quality and Ventilation

Adequate ventilation should be provided to prevent excessive heat, condensation, and to remove contaminated air and dust.

1.2.6 Drainage and Waste Disposal

Adequate drainage and waste disposal systems and facilities should be provided to operate in a hygienic manner.

Drainage and waste disposal systems should be designed and constructed to prevent the contamination of produce and the potable water supply. Suitable provision should be made for the storage and removal of waste.

1.3 Sanitation Facilities

1.3.1 Employee Facilities

Employee hygiene facilities and toilets should be made available and be adequately maintained to prevent contamination.

1.3.2 Equipment Cleaning and Sanitizing Facilities

Equipment cleaning and sanitizing facilities should be adequately designed, constructed and maintained to prevent contamination.

1.4 Quality and Supply of Water and Ice

An adequate supply of potable water with appropriate facilities for its storage, distribution and temperature control should be available where appropriate.

2. Transportation and Storage

2.1 Temperature Control

The temperature of incoming fruit or vegetables and finished products should be appropriately controlled during transportation and storage to minimize the growth of pathogenic microorganisms.

Subsequent to the control of product temperature during processing, refrigeration of the finished product throughout its expected shelf life is recommended to minimize the growth of pathogenic microorganisms.

2.2 Conveyances and Containers

Conveyances and containers should not be a source of contamination.

2.3 Incoming Ingredients, Packaging Materials and Finished Products

Incoming ingredients, packaging materials and finished products should be stored and handled in a manner to minimize spoilage, prevent damage and contamination.

2.4 Non-Food Chemicals

Non-food chemicals should be received and stored in a manner to prevent contamination of food, packaging materials and food contact surfaces.

3. Equipment

3.1 Design and Installation

All equipment and utensils should be designed and constructed to permit effective cleaning and sanitation, and to prevent contamination.

Refrigeration Equipment
Temperature Measuring Devices
Magnets
Metal Detectors
Meters
Other Instrumentation

3.2 Equipment Maintenance and Calibration

Maintenance and calibration programs should be in place to ensure that equipment performs consistently as intended and prevents contamination of product.

4. Personnel

4.1 Training

Personnel should be trained in personal hygiene and hygienic handling of food such that they understand the precautions necessary to prevent the contamination of food.

4.1.1 Technical Training

Personnel should be trained to have the adequate technical knowledge and understanding of the operations or processes for which they are responsible.

Training should be appropriate to the complexity of the process and the tasks assigned.

4.2 Hygiene and Health

Hygiene and health requirements should be followed to ensure that personnel who come directly or indirectly into contact with food are not likely to contaminate produce. Visitors should, where appropriate, wear protective clothing and adhere to the personal hygiene provisions of this section.

4.2.1 Cleanliness and Conduct

All persons entering food handling areas should take the appropriate precautions to prevent the contamination of food.

4.2.2 Communicable Diseases and Injuries

Preventative measures should be in place to minimize the risks of directly or indirectly contaminating water, ice and food by persons with communicable diseases or injuries.

Persons known to be infected with diseases likely to be transmitted through food, or with open cuts or wounds, should not work in food handling areas where there is a likelihood of directly or indirectly contaminating food.

5. Sanitation and Pest Control

5.1 Cleaning and Sanitation Program

An effective sanitation program for equipment and premises should be in place to prevent contamination of food.

Cleaning and sanitation programs should ensure that equipment and all areas of an establishment are cleaned appropriately. Cleaning and sanitation programs should be reviewed regularly and modified as needed.

5.2 Pest Control Program

An effective pest control program should be in place to prevent entry, eliminate pests, and to prevent the contamination of food.

6. Recalls

6.1 Recall Program

An effective recall program should be in place to respond to food safety hazards.

A written procedure should be followed to enable traceback, traceforward and recall of any lot of product. Records should be available to provide necessary information to assist in the investigation and identification of any sources of contamination.

6.2 Recall Capability

Recall procedures should be tested periodically to verify that accurate information is available on a timely basis for rapid identification and removal of all affected products from the market.

7. Documentation and Records

Records that adequately reflect product information, programs and operational controls should be available to demonstrate the processing activities.

Water Quality and Supply Records

Temperature Control Records

Equipment Maintenance Records

Calibration Records

Cleaning and Sanitation Records

Pest Control Records

Distribution Records

Part III Processing Controls

1. Product Formulation

1.1 Specifications

Written specifications for all components, including raw fruits and vegetables, any added ingredients, packaging materials and gases that are necessary for the process and packaging of the finished product should be in place.

Raw fresh fruit and vegetables should be sourced from suppliers that have adopted good agricultural practices and provide evidence that the product was grown, stored and transported to the facility according to written specifications. Refer to Part I Good Agricultural Practices.

Written specifications should be in place for ingredients and components that identify criteria essential for the process and product safety (e.g., allergens, permeability of packaging materials, and grade of gases appropriate with food contact use).

Specifications should include a provision for compliance with the Food and Drugs Act and Regulations, specifically: food additives, if present, must meet the requirements; and packaging materials must be intended for direct food contact.

1.2 Product Formula

Current written formulae should be available for each multi-component product processed into fresh-cut.

Formulae should be followed to produce a consistent and safe final product and to avoid introduction of potential hazards (e.g., adding unlisted ingredients which could cause allergic reactions).

2. Incoming Material Control

2.1 Incoming Materials

Incoming produce, ingredients, packaging materials and gases should be controlled to minimize microbial, chemical and physical hazards and to prevent mislabelling or misrepresenting of final product. For incoming ingredients that are likely to impact on the safety of finished products, one of the following programs should be in place:

Periodic Evaluation of Incoming Materials:
Lot Inspection
Supplier Verification

Records should be maintained to demonstrate adequate knowledge of the supplier's practices and process (e.g., agricultural practices on farm, process flow, etc.)

2.2 Incoming Material Control Records

Records should be maintained to demonstrate the adequacy of incoming material controls.

These records will allow verification of the processor's control over microbial, physical and chemical hazards associated with incoming materials.

3. Preprocessing and Processing

All critical processing factors should be controlled to minimize risks associated with the product. Raw fruit and vegetables should be inspected, sorted, trimmed, washed and disinfected, as appropriate, to prevent contamination of the finished product.

3.1 Inspection, Sorting, Trimming and First Wash

During preparation of fruits or vegetables for processing, microbial, chemical and physical hazards should be minimised by conducting the following:

3.2 Peeling, Slicing, Chopping, Cutting, and Shredding

Procedures should be in place to minimize contamination with physical (metal) and microbial contaminants during peeling, slicing, chopping, cutting or shredding processes.

3.3 Washing

Washing cut produce with potable water reduces microbial contamination. In addition, it removes some of the cellular fluids released during the cutting process thereby reducing the level of available nutrients for microbial growth.

3.4 Antimicrobial Treatment

Antimicrobial treatments should be used to minimize or reduce contamination of finished products.

3.4.1 Chlorinated Wash Water

Chlorine may be added to wash water to reduce microbial contamination on produce. After the chlorination treatment, excess chlorine should be removed from the produce.

3.4.2 Other Antimicrobial Treatments

Antimicrobial treatments other than chlorination should be evaluated for their safety and efficacy by the Food Directorate of the Health Products and Food Branch, Health Canada.

3.5 Adherence to Product Formulation

Processing should be controlled to ensure that each multi-component product is produced in accordance with its formula.

Adherences to product formulae ensure that products are consistent and prevent the addition of ingredients not listed on the label that may elicit an adverse reaction in sensitive individuals and ensures that ingredients essential to product safety are added.

3.6 Product Temperature During Processing

Product temperature should be controlled during processing to minimize the growth of pathogenic microorganisms.

Numerous factors may affect product temperature during processing including: variations in the temperature of incoming produce; fluctuations in ambient temperature; and changes in wash water temperature. If the product is packaged at elevated temperature, there may be an unacceptable time lag before the product reaches refrigeration temperature. This could result in growth of microbial pathogens to unacceptable levels. The processing should be controlled to ensure that product temperature is reduced to refrigeration temperature (4°C or less) within an acceptable time frame.

The processor should demonstrate the control of product temperature through one of the following programs or equivalent:

Cold Chain Concept

3.7 Product Processing Records

Records that reflect the control of critical processing factors should be available upon request.

Records will allow verification of the process and product composition and should be available to demonstrate the following:

4. Packaging

4.1 Packaging and Containers

Packaging and product handling should be controlled to prevent product contamination.

An effective system should be in place to prevent the use of contaminated, damaged or defective containers that come in contact with produce. The controls that are in place should be verified through periodic checks.

4.2 Critical Packaging Factors

Container filling and sealing should be controlled to meet the criteria outlined in the establishment's process design.

Deviation from the packaging criteria could result in contamination or growth of microbial pathogens.

5. Container Coding and Labelling

5.1 Product Identification

Each packaged food product should be marked to allow the identification of product in the event of a recall.

5.2 Label Accuracy

Label information should be complete and accurately represents the product. The label must meet the requirements of the Food and Drugs Act and Regulations and the Consumer and Packaging and Labelling Act and Regulations.

Controls should be in place to prevent mislabelling. Accurate labels inform and protect individuals allergic or sensitive to certain foods or with specific dietary needs.

5.3 Labelling – Storage Temperature

All finished products should be labelled with the statement: "Keep Refrigerated".

Products should be kept at refrigeration temperature during storage, transportation and display for sale to minimize the potential for growth of microbial pathogens. Proper labelling is required to ensure that all persons handling the product are aware of the storage temperature requirement. "Keep Refrigerated" as defined by the Food and Drug Regulations means kept at 4°C.

6. Deviations and Corrective Action

6.1 Deviation Procedures

Procedures should be in place to identify, isolate and evaluate products when critical limits are exceeded or when other defects occur which could affect product safety.

Identification of Deviation
Isolation of Affected Product
Evaluation of Affected Product:

6.2 Corrective Action

Effective corrective actions should be implemented to prevent the recurrence of deviations.

Corrective action procedures should be in place in order to determine the cause of the problem, take action to prevent a recurrence and verify with monitoring and reassessment to ensure the efficiency of the actions. The corrective action procedures should include:

6.3 Deviation and Corrective Action Records

Records should be available to demonstrate controls of deviations and the effectiveness of corrective actions.

Maintaining complete and accurate records will allow verification of the adequacy of the processor's control of deviations and the implementation of effective corrective action procedures.

Deviation/Hold
Corrective Action

7. Verification of Product Safety

7.1 Verification Procedures

Supplementary methods should be used to evaluate and verify the effectiveness of controls affecting food safety.

The purpose of verification is to determine the effectiveness of processing controls in preventing health hazards and to indicate areas where improvements are required.

7.2 Verification Records

Records should be available to demonstrate the effectiveness of verification procedures.

8. Complaint Handling

8.1 Product Complaints

An effective system for handling and investigating complaints should be in place.

Customer and/or consumer complaints are an important indicator of possible deficiencies of processing controls and/or the distribution handling procedures.

8.2 Complaint Records

Records of product complaints, investigation findings and actions taken should be available upon request.

Consumer Information
Investigation

Glossary

Adverse food reaction
a general term that can be applied to a clinically abnormal response to an exposure to a food or food component.
Certification
in this document, process to ensure and verify the reliability and the capability of a supplier to consistently manufacture within the processor's specifications. This may include periodic monitoring to verify adherence to specifications and audits to validate the status of the supplier certification program.
Challenge test
scientific study by which specific microorganisms of concern are added to a product to confirm the adequacy of a theoretical process.
Cleaning
the removal of soil, dirt, grease or other objectionable matter.
Control
measure to ensure that an operation: performs consistently within predetermined limits based on process capability; meets process requirements; and consistently results in a safe product.
Corrective action
any action to bring the process into control and manage any affected product when critical limits or other criteria are not met. The action is to be prompt and appropriate to the seriousness of the deficiency.
Critical control point
a point, step or procedure at which control can be applied and food safety hazard can be prevented, eliminated, or reduced to acceptable levels.
Critical factor
any property, characteristic, condition, or other variable parameters which may affect the validated process and compromise the safety of the product.
Critical limit
a value which delimits acceptability from non-acceptability for which the safety of the product may be compromised. Critical limits are different from control limits or specification limits. Control limits indicate what the process is capable of delivering and are tighter than specification limits which are in turn tighter than critical limits.
Deterioration
for produce, deterioration can be used interchangeably with spoilage, When applicable to non-food products such as packaging materials, deterioration is a physical or chemical change in the material that may adversely affect the safety of the food.
Deviation
failure to meet the critical limits or other specified requirements for a critical factor.
Hazard
A biological, chemical or physical agent or condition of food having the potential to cause an adverse health effect.
Lot
he amount of product of a specific container size, product style and code produced by a food establishment during a specified period of time.
Minimally processed ready-to-eat fruit or vegetables
raw fruit or vegetables that have been peeled, sliced, chopped or shredded prior to being packaged for sale. With the possible exception of the addition of dressing or croutons by the end-user, the product does not require further preparation before consumption.
Monitoring
a planned sequence of observations or measurements of control parameters to assess whether a critical control point [or other activity] is under control.
Periodic mock recall
internal activities conducted on a periodic basis to verify the capability of the processor to rapidly identify and control a given lot of product. These activities do not necessarily require the processor to contact customers.
Records
documented observations and measurements to determine adherence to critical limits or other specified requirements for critical factors.
Risk
an estimate of the likelihood of occurrence of a hazard.
Sanitation
is a process that removes or reduces the number of microorganisms, including pathogens.
Spoilage
a process whereby food quality and/or food safety is rendered unacceptable through microbiological or chemical reaction.
Verification
confirmation of the accuracy, correctness or effectiveness of process controls through testing, investigation or comparison with a standard.
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