Fresh produce can be associated with a wide range of pathogens and there are occasions where fresh produce has been identified as the source of food poisoning outbreaks. Much of the Agency’s work in this area has previously focussed on the transfer of pathogens from organic waste and, more recently, irrigation water to fresh produce. While the microbiological risks from organic wastes are important, there is also a need to consider other aspects of crop management and processing, particularly for crops that may be consumed raw. This research project will include a review of current industry practices at all stages of the food chain from preparation of the land to retail, (for example crop management practices, the supply chain, how the industry is structured, and industry approaches to controlling hazards and risks) and use this information to identify key areas for further work, including possible research and areas where the Agency may work in partnership with the industry to help improve the control of hazards and risks associated with fresh produce.
A literature review of published and unpublished outbreak data will be used to identify the main zoonoses and produce groups which pose the greatest risk to consumers. Additionally a series of retail and farm visits and interviews will be carried out to review the systems currently in place to manage risks associated with fresh produce production. The review will be structured around the whole supply chain, identifying risks associated with field history, soil preparation, crop inputs, irrigation, harvesting, handling, cooling, dispatch and distribution. The information gathered will be used to review current industry field practices, assess the risks and identify areas of best practice in the UK and also in key countries which supply the UK.
Although commonly-encountered assurance codes of practice for fresh produce growers provide sound guidance, industry has difficulties in applying some of the guidance in a practical setting. Consequently, it is recommended that the Agency investigate ways to help industry apply guidance. If implemented correctly, systems developed in this area could be used as performance indicators by the Agency to provide ongoing intelligence on consumer risk from fresh produce. In addition, ICT-based systems may allow the Agency to reduce the requirement for expensive surveys which it uses to periodically determine the microbiological status of fresh produce.
Click here for the Final report for B17007
A review of the scientific literature relating to foodborne illness outbreaks associated with ready-to-eat fresh produce was undertaken. In a large number of cases, there were no definitive identifications of the sources of the outbreak; although likely foods were identified. It was determined that one reason for the lack of success in unequivocally identifying the source of an outbreak associated with fresh produce was the shelf life of the food. In extreme cases, the shelf life of some fresh produce was less than the incubation period of the disease. Thus there was a lack of material available for laboratory testing when it became apparent that there had been a problem.
In addition, copies of commonly-encountered assurance codes of practice for fresh produce growers were obtained and the practices contained within these documents were reviewed from a food safety viewpoint. All of the codes reviewed made at least some provision for food safety, although a range of practices of different appropriateness were described. We concluded there were no significant problems with any of guidances that were reviewed.
A survey of growers was undertaken to assess compliance with these codes and to identify specific parts of the codes that growers found difficult to comply with or to implement. Growers find it difficult to risk assess water sources used for irrigation and water usage generally. Furthermore, the selection of bacterial test indicators that were encountered was diverse and growers experienced difficulty in choosing appropriate indicators for which to test and also in deciding how to use the results of these tests as the basis of informed decisions for the management of their risks.
What it means and why it’s important
Although commonly-encountered assurance codes of practice for fresh produce growers provide sound guidance, industry has difficulties in applying some of the guidance in a practical setting.
Consequently, it is recommended that the Agency investigate the use of custom information and communication technologies along the lines of a system pioneered by Tesco to address this very issue. If implemented correctly, systems developed in this area could be used as performance indicators by the Agency to provide ongoing intelligence on consumer risk from fresh produce. In addition, ICT-based systems may allow the Agency to dispense with expensive surveys which it uses to periodically determine the microbiological status of fresh produce.
- Hutchison, M. L., Avery, S. M. and Monaghan J. M. (2008). The air-borne distribution of zoonotic agents from livestock waste spreading and microbiological risk to fresh produce from contaminated irrigation sources. Journal of Applied Microbiology 105:848-857.
- Monaghan, J.M. & Hutchison, M.L., (2012) Distribution and decline of human pathogenic bacteria in soil after application in irrigation water and the potential for soil-splash-mediated dispersal onto fresh produce. Journal of Applied Microbiology 112(5), 1007-1019