Risky fresh produce: What makes a particular type of fresh produce risky?

Not every crop is equally risky in its potential to create a foodborne illness. A number of factors can influence this risk.

When crafting a food safety plan for a farm, it is important to consider the relative risk that the crops grown on the farm pose to creation of a foodborne illness outbreak. Not every crop is equally risky in its potential to create a foodborne illness. A number of factors can influence this risk and might be best understood by asking a series of questions about the crop itself.

Is the crop eaten raw?

In general, those crops eaten raw have a higher risk of causing a foodborne illness outbreak than those eaten cooked. Usually, heating produce, through boiling or baking, to above 165 degrees controls a significant number of foodborne illness pathogens. Though cooking doesn’t eliminate risk, it does reduce the risk.

Does the crop grow directly on the ground?

Soil carries a lot of foodborne illness pathogens. Soil can get picked up on produce in the field and may not get completely washed off. If the produce grows up off the ground, the chances for this type of contamination are greatly reduced

Is the crop usually eaten peeled?

With a few rare exceptions, most foodborne illness pathogens remain on the surface of the produce. If the produce is regularly peeled before eating, this can greatly reduce the chance of carrying a foodborne illness. If the skin is left on, the foodborne illness pathogens go with it.

These questions can be helpful in beginning to frame risk, but they are not the only considerations from a food safety perspective. Growing and harvest practices will always influence risk as will post-harvest handling. The more thought you give every step in the process, the safer the food will be in the end.

If you would like more information on relative risk of the crops you grow, or have general questions on implementing good food safety practices on your farm, contact the Agrifood Safety Workgroup at 517-788-4292 or .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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