Harvest container cleaning keeps people from getting sick

Cleaning harvest containers and all surfaces that contact food not only reduces post-harvest losses, but keeps people healthy. Here are some of the key concepts to consider when washing lugs.

Clean and sanitary harvest containers are critically important in harvesting crops that are consumer-ready. They can also help decrease post-harvest losses from scratches and soiling on sensitive products like peaches and summer squash.

There are four steps to cleaning any surface that contacts food. The surface must be pre-rinsed to remove soil, washed with soap and water, rinsed of soap and water and then sanitized. If you use disposable, single-use harvest boxes, they do not need to be washed and sanitized. If you use any reusable containers such as plastic lugs or buckets, they must go through this four-step process prior to being filled with produce.

Any detergent can be used for the wash step as long as it is food-safe. Use of an antibacterial detergent does not replace the final sanitizing step.

Sanitizing the containers can be done with a number of products. Some, like hydrogen peroxide, are approved for organic production. Others, like bleach or quaternary ammonia, are not organically approved.

Whatever sanitizer you use will require some monitoring on your part to ensure there is adequately available active ingredients. In the case of chlorine bleach, this is done using test strips to ensure at least 100 parts per million of free chlorine.

If you have specific questions about sanitizing harvest containers or have difficulty tailoring GAPs to your farm, contact the Agrifood Safety Work Group at gaps@msu.edu or 517-788-4292. To obtain a step-by-step guide about writing a harvest cleaning protocol, ask for guidance document AFSM014-01.

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