Factors to consider when purchasing used produce-processing equipment

Producers should ask these questions when purchasing equipment for a fruit or vegetable packhouse to ensure food safety.

Purchasing equipment for a fruit or vegetable packhouse can be a daunting task. Usually the last thing on most farmers’ minds when buying equipment is food safety. It still might be a good idea for growers to keep a few questions in mind when they shop to help avoid a food safety disaster.

What was the equipment used for?

Prior uses of equipment can introduce risk because residue may be left in the equipment. In general, avoid equipment that was previously used for non-food purposes, especially if it is going to be a direct food contact surface. Equipment that was previously used for produce and was destined for further processing will need special attention before it is used for raw produce for fresh consumption. A complete cleaning and sanitizing as well as a thorough inspection is warranted before using it for the first time.

What is the equipment made of?

In general, more cleanable surfaces like plastic and PVC are more cleanable than wood. In some cases, post-harvest equipment like barrel washers can be retrofitted with plastic parts to make them more sanitary than they were when those same parts were wood.

Can you take the equipment apart relatively easily?

In an ideal world, all equipment should be able to be fully broken down for cleaning. In most cases, the ideal equipment does not exist or is too expensive to be practical for many farms. In the absence of taking the equipment apart, all equipment in use should be accessible to cleaning, sanitation, maintenance and routine inspection without having to deconstruct it. One way this is ensured in many produce grading facilities is by elevating the equipment and providing access above and below the equipment.

Equipment used in fruit and vegetable grading and sorting doesn’t need to be brand new or perfect. By having an eye to food safety as described above when shopping for or replacing equipment, the new-to-you equipment can be better than what you had.

If you have specific questions about harvest or post-harvest equipment or have difficulty tailoring GAPs to your farm, contact the Michigan State University Extension Agrifood Safety Work Group at gaps@msu.edu or 517-788-4292.

For more information on sanitary design, see the North American Meat Institute bulletin “Sanitary Equipment Design Principles.”

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