By Lydia Balogh (Summer Student), Kathryn Carter, Peter VanWeerden and Amanda Green, OMAFRA
Tender fruit harvest has started, and as packing lines are getting prepared for the upcoming season, there are a variety of things that growers should consider when getting their packinghouses prepared for production.
Preparing for the season involves making sure that coolers and equipment are in working order. Inspections should occur regularly to make sure the cold storage is clean, and the cooling equipment is functioning properly. Cold storage units should be kept at temperatures around 0° C as higher temperatures (4-8 °C) can reduce fruit quality.Cold air can leak out of improper seals, so replace entry curtains and door seals before the season begins.
Preparing the packing line
The packing line is an important part of the peach packinghouse. All surfaces on the packing line should be free of corrosion. If corroded surfaces are found, they should be replaced or refinished. Removing corrosion early prevents larger, more expensive problems. Maintain the packing line during the entire season.
Cleaning the packing line thoroughly before starting it can help minimize food safety risks and make it easier to clean the line during the season. Any new brushes or foam rollers should be thoroughly cleaned prior to use. Run rollers prior to running produce for packing. It’s also a good idea to wet the rollers while they are running to leach out any contaminants present within the foam.
Prior to starting production, consider running a small amount of produce through the packing line to assess if peaches are getting damaged, and how to prevent bruising.
Monitoring and Cleaning Packing Lines
Most tender fruit growers already implement a food safety program that ensures that they meet existing food safety requirements. Packing house design can have a significant impact on food safety risks. For information on packing line design and food safety, refer to Wash Line & Packing Shed Design for Food Safety .
Packing house cleaning and sanitation is important to reduce pathogens. Cleaning involves the removal of dirt (soil) from surfaces by using clean water and soap (detergent). Sanitation involves treating a cleaned surface with a sanitizer (i.e. chlorine) to reduce or eliminate microorganisms. Brushes, drains, floor brushes, bumpers and HVAC systems damaged walls and floors are vulnerable to the build up of pathogens such as Listeria spp. or E. coli which can be difficult to remove. Items associated with cleaning, including floor scrubbers, may also serve as sources of cross-contamination for Listeria spp.. In addition, wooden pallets and forklifts that move from outside production areas into cold storage or packinghouses areas can serve as sources of contamination (Killinger et al., 2015). Research has shown that aggressive cleaning of floors, bumpers, and damaged walls can reduce observations of presumptive positives for generic Listeria spp. (Killinger et al., 2015).
Implementing an environmental monitoring program in your packing house can help to minimize food safety risks. For more information on environmental monitoring programs for packing houses refer to: Strategies for Listeria Control in Tree Fruit Packinghouses.
Keep in mind that food safety measures start in the orchard. Fruit that is directly contacted by open surface irrigation water has a higher risk for generic E. coli contamination as compared to fruit that are not contacted by irrigation water (3.3%) (Killinger et al., 2019). Cleaning and maintaining bins and picking baskets can also help to reduce food safety risks.
Especially considering the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s important to have workers follow appropriate sanitation practices. Follow government recommendations for COVID-19 protocols in the workplace. Food safety programs generally recommend thorough hand washing as well as wearing latex gloves. Make sure the packinghouse has hand cleaning stations with posted instructions and enforce cleanliness with employees and visitors. For further COVID-19 protections of both the workers and product, consider providing masks. Requirements for the use of masks and other PPE may vary between regions, please contact the local public health agency for more information. The OFVGA has additional information and resources for growers and workers on COVID. Funding is available to help cover some of the additional costs associated with adapting production lines to meet COVID health and safety protocols. For information on these funding programs refer to: http://www.omafra.gov.on.ca/english/about/agrifoodprogram.htm
References and Further Reading:
University of Georgia Extension. (2020). Preparing the packhouse for peach season. University of Georgia Extension (Publication 880). https://extension.uga.edu/publications/detail.html?number=C880
Killinger, K., Hanrahan, I., Suslow, T., & Liao, Y. (2015). Assessment of apple packing for Listeria risk. Washington State University (Final Project Report). https://treefruitresearch.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/Report-754.-KillingerListeriaRiskFinal.pdf
Warner, G. (2016 January 14). Food safety research focuses on packing. Good Fruit Grower. https://www.goodfruit.com/food-safety-research-focuses-on-packing/
Hanrahan, I. (n.d.). Orchard management to restrict foodborne pathogen contamination and proliferation. http://www.hort.cornell.edu/expo/proceedings/2017/TreeFruitHort.Orchard%20management%20to%20restrict%20foodborn%20pathogen.pdf
Ontario Ministry or Agriculture, Food, and Rural Affairs. (2016). Foods of plant origin cleaning and sanitation guidebook. Ontario Ministry or Agriculture, Food, and Rural Affairs. http://www.omafra.gov.on.ca/english/food/inspection/fruitveg/sanitation_guide/cs-guidebook.htm
Pietrysiak, E., Smith, S., & Ganjyal, G.M. (2019 October 3). Food safety interventions to control Listeria monocytogenes in the fresh apple packing industry: A review. Comprehensive reviews of food science and food safety. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/1541-4337.12496
Washington State Tree Fruit Association. (2018). Strategies for Listeria control in tree fruit packinghouses. https://www.unitedfresh.org/content/uploads/2018/12/12-14-18-FINAL-WSTFA.pdf