Remember all risk types when developing a food safety plan

When creating food safety plans for produce farms, many only seem to dwell on things that cause sickness or diarrhea when assessing risk. In reality, food safety risks can be biological, chemical or physical in nature.

Produce-related food borne illnesses get a lot of press. In fact, they get so much press that many individuals that are creating food safety plans for produce farms only seem to dwell on those things that make you sick or give you diarrhea when assessing risk. In fact, these kinds of risks are only one of three classes of risks that produce growers need to consider.

As previously mentioned, viruses, fungi and bacteria that make you vomit are part of a class of risks commonly referred to as biological risks. According to Michigan State University Extension, they can be spread in many ways including from infected humans, animal feces, contaminated water and commingling with other contaminated produce.

Another major class of risks is referred to as physical risks. These can include foreign objects like glass and splinters as well as stray jewelry and bits of metal. Tractors and maintenance vehicles have glass mirrors and windows that can break and fall in food at harvest, as can lights used over grading lines. Harvest and packing line workers can lose articles of jewelry in produce if it is worn at any stage of direct handling. Wooden harvest equipment can shed splinters in produce, as can wooden packing surfaces.

Chemical contamination can come in many forms. Misapplication of crop protectants can cause a chemical contamination, as can farm machinery in poor repair. Any fluid from farm machinery can cause a contamination event, as can leaking hydraulic fluid from loose fittings. Mixing and loading pads as well as chemical storage areas can be sources of contamination if already harvested produce is staged nearby.

It often takes years to spot risks on farms, and it is understandable if the risks in a food safety manual evolve over time. The important thing is that a grower continues to assess and analyze risk from all types of contamination, and not just biological risks.

If you would like more information on understanding the risks on your farm, or have general questions on implementing good food safety practices on your farm, contact the Agrifood Safety Workgroup at 517-788-4292 or

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