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FDA Issues Guidance for Produce Manufacturers

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In the wake of several public-health scares related to contaminated produce, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued a guidance document intended to protect product safety during the processing of fresh-cut fruit and vegetables. The FDA’s new document, “Guide to Minimize Microbial Food Safety Hazards of Fresh-cut Fruits and Vegetables,” offers a slate of recommendations to “minimize the potential for microbial contamination.”

According to the FDA, the fresh-cut produce sector is the fastest-growing segment of the entire produce industry and is responsible for more than a quarter of all produce-related contamination outbreaks in the past decade. The agency defines fresh-cut produce as “minimally processed” fruits or vegetables that have been peeled, sliced, chopped, shredded, or trimmed before being packaged for consumer or retail use (e.g. shredded lettuce, sliced tomatoes, salad mixes, peeled baby carrots, cut melons and grapefruit).

The FDA’s guide includes information and recommendations about personnel health and hygiene; training; facilities and equipment; sanitation operations; packaging, storage, and transport; and recordkeeping and recalls.

“Ensuring the safety of the American food supply is one of this Agency’s top priorities,” said Dr. Andrew von Eschenbach, FDA Commissioner. “Americans are eating more fresh-cut produce, which we encourage as part of a healthy diet. But fresh cut-produce is one area in which we see food-borne illness occur. Offering clearer guidance to industry should aid in the reduction of health hazards that may be introduced or increased during the fresh-cut produce production process.”

The latest guidance was announced ahead of this week’s hearing of the Agriculture, Rural Development, and Related Agencies Subcommittee, part of the Senate Committee on Appropriations. Eschenbach is expected to testify at the hearing, which will focus on safety issues related to the fresh-produce industry.

The FDA also notes that consumers themselves can take action to prevent the spread of food-borne illness. They recommend that consumers use “safe handling practices” such as refrigeration, thorough cleaning of hands, utensils, and dishes, and prompt discarding of expired fruit and vegetable products.

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