Following the flow of fresh produce

In putting together a food safety manual, it’s important to think about how food moves from harvest to leaving the care of the operation. Tracing the flow of food helps pinpoint potential sources of contamination that might not be apparent.

If you are a fresh produce grower who is struggling with understanding the food safety risks associated with growing your crop, Michigan State University Extension suggests it would be best to start by following the food. Understanding the path that the produce you grow takes from the time it is picked until the time it leaves your care can be enlightening.

Does the food ever move into an area where a biological, physical or chemical hazard can come in contact with it? If the flow of food passes through areas where crop protectants or fertilizers are mixed and loaded, those residues could contaminate the crop. If the area is near diesel loading and storage areas, this could also pose a contamination risk.

Staging areas in the shade under trees or awnings seem to be a pretty safe place to stage the produce prior to bringing it in for grading, washing or packing. The shade is also conducive for roosting birds that could pose a food safety risk. Power lines are also popular roosting sites for birds. Pay attention to paths the food takes that have it staged around or passing under a possible physical, biological or chemical contaminant.

Is there ever a chance where a lug of washed and cleaned produce could get commingled with a lug of produce fresh from the field and not yet washed? Often, space is at a premium in wash-pack areas or coolers. These spaces often have to accommodate both “clean” produce and “dirty” produce. The flow should be arranged to minimize the chances of the two getting mixed.

Following the food could take the form of an actual map. Mapping the path could allay some fears and bring to light areas of concern. Those individuals looking to have a packhouse audited should plan on creating a map of the packhouse and draw the flow of food on that map as part of their food safety manual, as this is a required part for a packhouse food safety manual.

If you would like more information on implementing good food safety practices in your operation, contact the Agrifood Safety Workgroup at 517-788-4292 or

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