Produce contamination by a multitude of human pathogens can occur anywhere in the produce continuum from field to fork, and once contamination occurs, no effective interventions exist to eliminate human pathogens from fresh fruits and vegetables. Although there are many potential scenarios for produce contamination to occur, no science-based risk assessment has clearly identified and quantified the risk associated with various produce handling steps from field to fork. A better understanding of risk factors associated with produce handling practices is needed, so that more effective intervention strategies may be developed to enhance produce food safety and reduce the incidence of foodborne illnesses associated with fresh fruit and vegetable consumption. To date, a preventative approach to contamination of fresh fruits and vegetables by the use of GAPs, cGMPs, and HACCP has proven to be the most effective means of ensuring produce food safety. It is imperative that public health officials and industry establish standardized metrics and baseline data regarding produce-associated foodborne illnesses and the risks associated with various handling practices. Data detailing foodborne illnesses associated with produce consumption must be indexed and standardized to ensure that the data that are being reported, accurately reflect actual illness incidence trends, and are not simply reporting anomalies due to increased surveillance, improved detection techniques, or increased per capita consumption of a specific commodity. Without the ability to quantify accurately foodborne illness and compare data over a prolonged period of time, it will be impossible to measure accurately progress and the efficacy of enhanced produce safety activities and tactics that are being implemented to reduce the incidence of produce contamination with human pathogens.
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