It is useless to maintain a high quality standard once the product is transported to shops and large surfaces, if during the development of the plant or fruit, the minimum parameters of food safety are not controlled at all .
Every year, there are hundreds of sanctions related to rural hygiene in greenhouses and outdoor areas. However, few of them are successful because while the sanction is being processed, the user performs a thorough cleaning to avoid the opening of the file.
When we talk about food handlers , we must not only refer to those people who alter a product in post-harvest, but also to those people who intervene in its production from the very germination of the seed. Hygienic-sanitary measures for vegetables and fruits do not only have to be taken when they are transported to cold rooms or large establishments.
THE ALMERIA CUCUMBER CRISIS
Although we have to look back at 2011, we are still suffering from what was called the “cucumber crisis.” A European health alert caused by an E. Coli outbreak that ultimately turned out to be false. Now, many Spanish companies are benefiting from compensation for the large losses suffered.
However, it is necessary to be very serious with food handling, since indeed some E. Coli outbreaks were detected in cucumbers but not the virulent strain that caused the deaths, something normal since the higher percentage of strains of this bacterium they are not harmful to man.
The origin was in some sprouts sprouted in Germany itself (Lower Saxony).
From here, many agree that the image of Spanish agriculture and, specifically, intensive agriculture in Almería, was reinforced . Today, there are many traceability analyzes that these foods receive before leaving for their final destination and many of the farmers are fully trained in food handling.
HYGIENE AND TRACEABILITY GUIDE IN AGRICULTURE
Agricultural production must be continuously subjected to the highest quality standards. That is why large amounts of money are invested annually in training and in the publication of hygiene guides and good practices .
As we have said, food handling starts from the seed (and if not that they tell the germs from Germany with E. Coli ). In this regard, there are courses to obtain the free food handler’s license , many of them subsidized and promoted.
There are mandatory regulations, such as Regulation (EC) No. 852/2004 of the European Parliament and of the Council of April 29, 2004, relating to the hygiene of food products, but as we want to facilitate the task, there are guides where You can consult and carry out a check list to verify the legislation.
One of the main factors to avoid in primary agriculture and food handling is to avoid the spread and inoculation of potential microorganisms to humans and other animals.
Therefore, hygiene and traceability efforts focus on the following aspects:
- Adequate management of fertilizers and phytosanitary products
- Agricultural water use
- Hygienic-sanitary conditions of workers and fruit and vegetable handlers
- The sanitary conditions in the operations of loading, unloading, transporting and storing these products.
AGRICULTURAL WATER USE
Water is the main source of the spread of potentially harmful bacteria and microorganisms. Without water there is no life, so food security must focus on this aspect.
What is the origin of the water? What type of irrigation do I use? What are the physical characteristics of the crop?
- Know the origin of the irrigation water and carry out periodic analyzes of its quality as well as of the storage systems (irrigation ponds) and distribution.
- The treated irrigation water implies compliance with regulations currently in force, as well as knowing the restrictions of use and the pertinent analyzes. All this is included in Royal Decree 1620/2007, on the reuse of treated water.
- Keep water stores or wells covered as much as possible, since the probability of being contaminated is greatly reduced.
- Analyze the water at least every 6 months to detect possible harmful microorganisms in it.
- Eliminate water by runoff if it has not been previously treated, as it can carry all kinds of potentially harmful bacteria.
- Avoid contact between manure or other stored organic matter and irrigation water.
USE OF PHYTOSANITARY PRODUCTS
We can think that the use of phytosanitary products goes hand in hand with good food management, by preventing the spread of crop diseases. However, the indiscriminate use of these products increases the resistance of many organisms and causes a break in the safe cycle of food handling.
The current legislation contemplates a maximum quantity of authorized active substances and a number of MRLs or residues fixed in the fruits. In each production and each campaign, it is essential to know this information.
HYGIENIC-SANITARY CONDITIONS OF WORKERS
All workers must have a minimum knowledge of hygiene and food handling , hence the importance of conducting workshops and lectures related to the subject. Likewise, a food handler will not be able to work if a minimum state of health is not guaranteed.
An infectious disease can pose a risk to future people who eat the products you have handled.
The staff must wash their hands continuously if the handling of food is high, as well as use protective equipment (gloves, boots, suitable clothing) in the different agricultural tasks.
Gloves, used well, are a protective measure and a good hygienic-sanitary tactic. However, if they are not temporarily changed or cleaned, they can be a source of disease spread.
FOOD SAFETY IN FOOD LOADING, UNLOADING AND HANDLING OPERATIONS
The operation of loading and unloading the products already collected, considered this as a post-harvest activity, is a high risk operation . In these operations there is a clear handling of food, and therefore precautionary measures must be taken to ensure the maximum possible hygiene.
Vehicles, trucks, vans and vans can be a source of the spread of diseases , including E. Coli , as puddles of liquid from crushed or poorly preserved products often remain at the base.
These organic residues must be cleaned at least each time they are transported with water and pressure soap.
- Reject rotting fruits and vegetables
- Remove dirt, mud or dust from the fruits as much as possible
- Use field boxes or trays previously cleaned and sanitized
- Ensure the cold chain once they are preserved for transport.