By Clint Thompson
Sometimes one bad apple can spoil a bunch. For a specialty crop producer, it can mean their livelihood.
Proper sanitation and documentation are essential management practices to the long-term sustainability of a farming operation. Growers need to regularly clean their packinghouse equipment while maintaining adequate records. This can prevent the recall of a large amount of produce, says Laurel Dunn, University of Georgia Extension coordinator and assistant professor in food science and technology.
“You might need to be doing it more frequently than you are or that you realize. I go to a lot of operations and sanitation is one of those things that they might start at the beginning of the season and not really do it much throughout the season. Or the big thing is they’re not documenting that they’re doing it,” Dunn said. “There have actually been documented cases where someone will sanitize at the beginning of the season. They’ll pack (apples) on that equipment all season. They might spot clean or even sanitize a few times throughout, but they don’t have it really well documented. There ends up being an issue with their product. If they can’t show (proper documentation of when they cleaned), all of a sudden, they might have to recall a lot more product than they thought.”
A major point of emphasis is in trucks, which can be used to harvest the crop out of the field and transport to a packinghouse.
“The sanitation in them is entirely neglected a lot of times. If you’re hauling your dogs around and then you’re hauling your product around, you’re going to get contamination,” Dunn said.
Growers need to sanitize their equipment at the end of the day and before using each day. Once a week is just not enough considering a farmers’ livelihood is at stake.
“If you don’t clean at the end of the day, you have sugars from fruit and vegetables that are on the equipment and you’re just giving all that time overnight to the bacteria or any organisms to be growing on those carbohydrates,” she added. “When I start hearing (farmers sanitizing) once a week, I get really nervous.”