Commodity Specific Food Safety Guidelines for the Lettuce and Leafy Greens Supply Chain - 1st Edition
Lettuce/leafy greens may be harvested mechanically or by hand and are almost always consumed uncooked or raw. Because lettuce/leafy greens may be hand-harvested and hand-sorted for quality, there are numerous “touch points” early in the supply chain and a similar number of “touch points” later in the supply chain as the products are used in foodservice or retail operations. Each of these “touch points” represents a potential opportunity for cross-contamination. For purposes of this document, a “touch point” is any occasion when the food is handled by a worker or contacts an equipment food contact surface.
Lettuce/leafy greens present multiple opportunities to employ food safety risk management practices to enhance the safety of lettuce/leafy greens. It should be noted that processed or value-added versions of lettuce/leafy greens packaged products are also commonly found in the marketplace in both retail and foodservice stores. These products are generally considered to be “ready-to-eat” (RTE) owing to the wash process used in their manufacturing and protective packaging employed in their distribution and marketing. In a processing operation, the basic principles of cGMPs, HACCP, sanitation and documented operating procedures are commonly employed to ensure production of the safest products possible. Lettuce/leafy greens raw agricultural commodities and fresh-cut/value added products are highly perishable and it is (strongly) recommended that they be distributed, stored and displayed under refrigeration to maintain product quality.
Further, it should be understood that this recommendation is for product quality reasons only, and not for food safety reasons. Raw agricultural commodities do not require refrigeration for food safety. Safe production, packing, processing, distribution and handling of lettuce/leafy greens depends upon a myriad of factors and the diligent efforts and food safety commitment of many parties throughout the distribution chain. No single resource document can anticipate every food safety issue or provide answers to all food safety questions. These guidelines focus on minimizing only the microbial food safety hazards by providing suggested potential actions to reduce, control or eliminate microbial contamination of lettuce/leafy greens in the field to fork distribution supply chain.