Key points of control and management of microbial food safety: Information for growers, packers, and handlers of fresh-consumed horticultural products

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Most horticultural crops that are eaten in the United States are wholesome and free of microorganism that could result in illness under common and sensible handling and food preparation practices. Many of the diverse fruits, vegetables, edible flowers, sprouted seeds, and micro-greens have natural barriers that minimize the chance that any surface contamination could survive for long periods or be transferred to the internal edible portions, up to the point of harvest. These same barriers may also increase effectiveness of washing and light to vigorous brushing (depending on the sensitivity of the item) for contamination removal. For some tolerant commodities, a combination of dry brushing, treatment with a volatile antimicrobial agent, and rapid drying is effective.
Contamination by microbial pathogen can only result, ultimately, from an external environmental source, and that can occur at any time from panting through food preparation. Nonetheless, as with all fruit and vegetables that are eaten uncooked, the best approach to maintaining the wholesome nature and safe consumption of edible horticulture products is to be aware of the potential risks and to systematically identify and establish management practices that minimize chances of external and internal contamination at every step from growing to selling. The industry must continue to take a proactive role in delivering this same message to the public in order to encourage safe food handling and preparation.

Trevor V. Suslow
University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources