Consumer, “the fork” fonns the last stage of the food supply chain and is equally responsible for preventing contamination and retaining food safety through proper storage and preparation of the products. Many food-borne illnesses occur at the consumer level because of improper handling and preparation practices most of which include inadequate heating during preparation, contamination during preparation, and cross-contamination between cooked and raw food. It is thus critical for the consumer to follow strict handling and preparation standards to avoid any hazard for safety concerns. The role of consumers and the private sector are essential elements to ensure food safety. Consumer’s role in food safety is to handle and use food in the appropriate manner and play an advocacy in the regulatory process (Hanak et al., 2000; Simmonds, 2002). Educating consumers to practice safe food handling, storage, and preparation teclmiques at home through package labeling or pamphlets at point-of-purchase can effectively reduce the number of food-borne illnesses. For fresh produce like fruits’ proper temperature control at home is also critical for minimizing potential microbial risks. The produce should be refrigerated and the consumers need to be educated to deal with extreme conditions such as extended power outages. The prepackaged fresh-cut fruits should not be rewashed to prevent potential cross-contamination from the kitchen surroundings. Delicate fruits should be washed in clean water and products with rough outer surfaces should be thoroughly scrubbed to prevent the transfer of potential pathogens from the rind to the flesh of the fruit. Produce sanitizers (not soaps) should be used if required. Immersion in hot water for a short period will also be helpful (Wang and Ryser, 2014).
GOOD AGRICULTURAL PRACTICES
Food safety is important aspect that focuses on decreased risks to produce wholesome, nutritious and safe food. Farmers mostly pay much attention to growing high quality, nutritious and safe fruits and vegetables but still incidents of foodborne illnesses happen as traced back from farms and could thus harm the customers. In addition, various harmful chemicals, human pathogens and foreign objects may contaminate produce from farm to the consumer. Moreover, thorough cooking kills pathogens but consumers eat many fruits and vegetables without cooking thus it is vital to prevent contamination. However, preventing contamination on the farm depends mostly on farming and post-harvest practices. Thus, implementing GAPs is the best way to protect your customers and also the esteem of your business. GAPs, including risk assessment and establishing points of control on the farm, focus on preventing contamination of fruits and vegetables on the farm. (Luedtke et al., 2003). To prevent the contamination of produces on the farm the GAPs growers can follow the below-mentioned points.
The possibility to evaluate that the produce being thoroughly cooked before eaten and if not then preventing on-farm contamination from pathogens. The possibility of nearby feedlots, annual pastures, or livestock farms that could lead to contamination of produce fields should also be evaluated. The fields that are flood prone or exposed to excessive runoff should be avoided. The manure should be stored away and in a manner that prevents runoff and wind drift from growing and handling areas. When manure is used as soil fertilizer it should be properly composted and applied long before the harvest and mostly when soils are warm (>10°C) and non-saturated and should not contact the produce (Georgia Crop Improvement Association, 2001).
Restrictions ought to be implemented for domestic animals (pets, chickens, grazing livestock, etc.) access to growing areas mostly during growing or harvesting using reasonable and legal measures. Properly composted or treated manure or animal products should be applied during crop production. The water used for irrigation puiposes during growing season should be tested before every usage for generic E. coJi and the workers should be provided with facilities of restroom, toilet, and hand-washing including toilet paper, running water, soap, single-use towels, and waste bins. The workers should also be trained regarding the personal hygiene and ensure that workers wash hands before starting work, after breaks, and after engaging in non-food handling activities like using the restroom, handling annuals, cleaning equipment, and so on.
During harvesting, the harvest bins, tools, and wagon beds should be cleaned and sanitized before use. The equipment and tools in contact with produce during or after harvest should be of non-absorbent, durable, and washable materials. These should also be clean and in good repair. The produce should be cleaned from dirt and debris while in the field and damaged, diseased, or visibly contaminated produce should not be harvested. The records of cleaning and sanitizing should be maintained.
The produce should be cooled after harvest to remove field heat that will minimize potential pathogen growth. The fruits that are bruised or damaged should be discarded. The packed fruits and vegetables should be kept off the floor. The floors and equipment should be clean and diy. For washing or cooling only potable water sources should be used for both harvested produce and cleaning surfaces that will contact produce. The water of produce wash or dump tank should be changed regularly to prevent organic debris from building up in the water. The dump tank or recirculated water should be treated to kill microorganisms and prevent cross-contamination. For most perishable fruits the water that is more than 10°F cooler than the produce should be avoided as cold water is absorbed by the produce along with pathogens that may be present. The produce should be packed when dry enough to limit the potential for bacterial growth on the surface of the produce. For transportation, the vehicles must be thoroughly cleaned and sanitized before loading with produce. Cool the vehicle before loading and ensure cooling equipment is functioning properly. Keep records of dates of harvest and packing, dates of sale/ shipping, and where it was sold/shipped and also be prepared to show records to authorities if requested (Georgia Crop Improvement Association, 2001).
GOOD MANUFACTURING PRACTICES
GMP standards define requirements for the management and control of activities and operations involved in the manufacture, storage, and distribution of foods. GMP tries to ensure that quality is built into the organization and the processes involved in manufacturing. The activities involved in achieving quality cover much more than the manufacturing operations themselves. Once fruits are produced safely using GAPs, it is the responsibility of the processor to deliver it to the consumer in safe and wholesome form. Fruits are processed and preserved in a number of ways but here we will focus only on the minimally processed ready to eat fruits. Most specifically the hazards associated with minimally processed ready-to-eat fruit are microbial contaminants although some agricultural chemicals and food additives above the maximum residue limits may also be present. The microbial pathogens associated with fresh fruits include Listeria monocytogenes, Salmonella spp., Shigella spp., enteropathogenic strains of Escherichia coli, Hepatitis A virus, and the protozoans Cryptosporidium, Cyclospora, and Giardia. The fresh fruits coming from the farm are itself the source of contamination besides workers’ hygiene and handling practices and the condition of the processing environment and equipment used to minimally process fruit are also involved. When fruit is chopped or shredded for minimal processing, the release of cellular fluids provides a nutritive medium for microbial growth. Moreover, the high moisture content and neutral pH of fresh fruits also favor the microbial growth. Further, the risk of food-borne illness is intensified by the lack of “kill step” to eliminate microbial pathogens, and the potential for temperature abuse during preparation, distribution, and storage. In addition, the increased time and distance from harvesting, processing to final point of consumption of certain fresh fruit may contribute to microbial growth and subsequently contribute to increased risks of food-borne illness. Processing steps need to be controlled to ensure the safety and integrity of the product. Some of the control measures for minimally processed fruits include:
- (1) Fruits should be cooled immediately after harvest to remove the field heat and lower the temperature to minimize microbial growth. Cooling systems shall be appropriately designed and maintained and potable water shall be used in cooling systems to avoid any contamination.
- (2) After cooling, the fresh fruits shall be maintained in clean and hygienic cold room. Control measures to prevent condensate dripping onto fresh fruits in cold room should be available.
- (3) Samples should be checked from time to time for their quality as specified by relevant laws and regulations. Water temperature and replacement frequency should also be checked in order to minimize the build-up of organic materials and prevent cross-contamination.
- (4) For pre-cut operations like cutting, slicing and shredding, documented operating procedures should be available to minimize contamination from hazards.
- (5) Antimicrobial agents, if used, shall not exceed the permitted levels as required by relevant laws and regulations. Their concentrations and dosage shall be checked for their effectiveness.
- (6) Food additives like antibrowning agents or firming agents, if used, shall be in compliance with relevant laws and regulations.
- (7) Excessive water should be removed to minimize microbiological growth
- (8) Documented operating procedure for packing should be available. The use of contaminated, damaged, or defective cartons should be avoided.
- (9) All finished fresh-cut produce should be recommended by storage instructions (e.g., “Keep Refrigerated”).
- (10) Proper management and supervision are required.
- (11) Availability of documented procedures for the operations and monitoring.
- (12) Identification or lot number shall be indicated to enable recall and traceability in case of safety problems.