Can you improve the cleanliness of your harvest knives?

Not all crops require knives to harvest or pack. For those that do, knives can potentially spread disease through all the produce they touch. There are a number of food safety considerations when using knives.

Knives are necessary in harvesting some crops. Unfortunately, the act of harvest with a knife opens a wound that can provide entry for microorganisms that both decrease shelf-life and cause foodborne illness. By treating harvest knives in a food safe manner, a grower can at once reduce the incidence of illness causing microorganisms and extend the shelf-life of the product.

Think about your operation’s use of knives. Are they used in the field or in a pack house? Are they in constant use or intermittent use? How are they handled when they are not in use? All of these questions are important to consider when thinking through a knife handling Standard Operating Procedure (SOP).

In general, knives should be washed and sanitized at least at the beginning and end of the day irrespective of how they are used. That being said, most situations call for much more frequent sanitation. If a knife is in constant use, it need not be sanitized between uses. If, however, there is a situation where the knife could be placed in its sheath or set down on a surface, the knife should be sanitized with a sanitizer at the appropriate concentration to treat surfaces.

In a field situation, this could be difficult for many harvest workers to achieve. One possible solution would be to equip harvest workers with covered dip cups filled with a sanitizing solution they carry with them. When the knife is not in use, the blade is placed in the dip cup.

When harvest workers are on carts or harvesting in a field pack situation, a small tote filled with sanitizing solution can be placed on the cart or field pack line between workers, allowing the knives to rest in sanitizer, except when in use.

If you have difficulty tailoring GAPs to your farm, contact the Agrifood Safety Work Group at or 517-788-4292. To obtain more information about writing a knife handling SOP, ask for guidance document AFSM035-01.

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