Maintaining fresh produce cold chain reduces foodborne illness risk

Refrigerating fresh produce soon after picking not only helps extend the shelf life of the fresh product, but reduces risk of foodborne illness. Here are some best practices to ensure food safety compliance when using refrigeration.

Implementing good food safety in the production of fruits and vegetables is an important and difficult thing to do. This food safety necessarily must go beyond just the field and extend into how the produce is stored on-farm.

From the time fresh produce is harvested until it is consumed, it loses nutritive value. This loss is often reduced by maintaining a cold chain, or keeping the produce held at a given temperature from the time of harvest to the time of consumption. Maintaining this cold chain is not only important for produce quality, but also for food safety.

Most foodborne illness bacteria do not grow as well in temperatures common under refrigeration. Keeping things cool helps keep any potential bacterial contaminants in check. If refrigeration is not maintained or is not working properly, this check doesn’t happen and can increase the risk of foodborne illness. For this reason, it is important to make sure that refrigeration is maintained.

Routine monitoring and documentation of the temperature of refrigerated areas is the only way to make sure that the cold chain has been maintained. Try to develop a habit of checking the temperatures at certain points in the day, like at the beginning of work, lunch time and at the end of the day, or after every shift. Keeping a record of the temperature is important in order to provide proof that the cold chain has been maintained, both to your buyer as well as to any auditing agency, if asked later.

If you have questions about early postharvest produce storage of produce, or have difficulty tailoring GAPs to your farm, contact the Agrifood Safety Work Group at or 517-788-4292. To obtain a copy of a temperature log, ask for Guidance Document AFSM039-02.

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