March/April 2020

Equipment advice for small or new produce processors
By Phillip Tocco

On-farm produce safety can be undermined with the wrong postharvest equipment. Consider these food safety concerns when buying equipment and come to an upcoming workshop on hygienic equipment design.

Phil Tocco

Purchasing equipment for a fruit or vegetable packhouse can be a daunting task. Usually, the last thing on most farmers’ minds when buying equipment is food safety. It’s a good idea to keep a few questions in mind when shopping to help avoid a food safety disaster. 

What was its prior use?

Prior uses of equipment can introduce risk because residue may be left in the equipment. In general, avoid equipment that was previously used for non-food purposes, especially if parts will be direct food contact surfaces. Equipment that was previously used for produce that was destined for further processing will need special attention before it is used for raw produce destined for fresh consumption. A complete cleaning and sanitizing as well as a thorough inspection is warranted before using it for the first time. Also, consider whether the prior use required a design that enabled the cleaning and sanitization that you need to do.

What is it made of?

Food contact surfaces need to be cleaned and sanitized. In general, smooth, non-permeable surfaces like plastics and stainless steels are more suitable than wood. In some cases, postharvest equipment like barrel washers can be retrofitted with smooth and cleanable parts to make them more sanitary than they were when those same parts are wood. 

Can you take it apart relatively easily?

In an ideal world, all equipment should be easy to disassemble for cleaning, inspection and maintenance. In most cases, the ideal equipment does not exist or is too expensive to be practical for many farms. If it isn’t easy to take apart, take pains that cleaning is adequately accomplished despite this. This may require a toolbox close at hand to be able to take the equipment apart, as well as providing 360-degree access to the equipment.

One way access is ensured in many produce-grading facilities is by elevating the equipment and providing access above and below the equipment. Training and standard operating procedures for deep cleaning should be considered to help improve the efficiency of this important practice. These can be written or pictorial.

Equipment used in fruit and vegetable grading and sorting doesn’t need to be brand new or perfect. By having an eye to food safety as described above when shopping for or replacing equipment, the new-to-you equipment can be better than what you had.

— Phillip Tocco is an educator on the subjects of good agricultural practices, food safety and food and animal systems for the Michigan State University Extension.


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