Effectiveness Of Good Agricultural Practices Gaps

Good agricultural practices (GAPs) fundamentally influence the level of microflora on produce and products made from produce. In 1998 the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) published a document in conjunction with the USDA entitled Guide to Minimize Microbial Food Safety Hazards for Fresh Fruits and Vegetables. This document was published as a draft on April 13 and as a final version on October 26, 1998 [4,5]. The document outlines hazards associated with common agricultural practices such as irrigation water, application of manure, field and facility sanitation, packing, and transportation. Although this document does not specifically address sorting and culling, inclusion of damaged and decayed produce amplifies the risks described in it.

The risk of subsequent spoilage and invasion of foodborne pathogens can be reduced through careful handling and appropriate phytosanitary measures including appropriate sorting and culling. The majority of spoilage organisms found on fruits and vegetables at harvest are essentially opportunistic organisms that require physical injury or excessive softening to gain entry to host tissue [6]. Many plant pathogens will infect adjacent areas of healthy produce once they have become established in damaged produce. In addition, such damaged and rotted areas particularly in ordinarily acidic tissue allow growth and survival of foodborne pathogens that might otherwise not survive. Escherichia coli O157:H7 survival was enhanced in bruised apples [7]. The bruised tissue was found to have significantly higher pH values that allowed growth of the pathogen. Survival of E. coli O157:H7 was also enhanced when apples were wounded and inoculated with the plant pathogen Glomerella cingulata [8]. This enhanced survival and growth was again attributed to increases in pH that accompanied infection by G. cingulata.

In addition to the increased risk of infection with foodborne pathogenic organisms, decayed produce may be contaminated with toxins produced by the invading microorganisms. Patulin is one mycotoxin that is produced primarily by Penicillium expansium, responsible for blue mold rot on apples, pears, and other fruit. Levels of patulin in apple juice have been correlated to the level of decay found on the apples [9]. Clearly, improper sanitation and handling of damaged produce where pathogens have greater ingress to internal tissue would represent a greater risk of foodborne illness than the use of sound produce. Consequently, proper sorting and removal of any damaged and decayed produce is an essential prerequisite in the prevention of foodborne illnesses.

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