From the desk of Dr. Jennifer McEntire, United Fresh Vice President, Food Safety & Technology
You may wonder why the fresh produce industry is so concerned about hygienic design of equipment given that the product often comes out of the ground. But with several outbreaks of foodborne illness and dozens of recalls to point to, industry awareness of the need for cleanable equipment has never been higher. The 150+ members of the United Fresh Food Safety & Technology Council and 4000 members of our Food Safety Community consider control of L. monocytogenes a top priority issue, and properly constructed, cleanable equipment is a critical to effective Listeria management. An ongoing challenge, however, is that even some new equipment does not meet hygienic design standards. If you’re an original equipment manufacturer, how can you address this market need?
1. Talk to your customers, before and after the sale. Understand what the company needs to do from a functional standpoint and the resources they have to spend on regular cleaning and sanitation. Recognize that a signed purchase order is the beginning, not the end of the relationship with the company. Provide support by giving input on the development of sanitation SSOPs and help explain how modifications of the equipment may impact its cleanbility. To jump start this dialogue, a first-of-its-kind meeting of 15 equipment suppliers (each with a sales/marketing as well as a design engineer representative) and 16 fresh cut processors (food safety representative along with operations or engineering representatives), along with several influential buyers, was held in the fall of 2016 to discuss sanitary design needs, considerations, and constraints. The meeting was organized by Joe Stout at Commercial Food Sanitation and hosted by Taco Bell, with United Fresh support. We then held a smaller scale event at FreshTEC Expo in 2017 aimed at bringing together exhibitors with hygienic design solutions and will expand and enhance this activity at FreshTEC Expo in 2018.
2. Look at other industries. Although we say “fresh produce is different” there is still a lot we can learn from others such as the RTE meat and dairy industries who have also sought hygienic design solutions. Apply those experiences to innovate around the needs of fresh produce companies.
3. Be familiar with existing resources. As far back as 2004 the fresh-cut segment of the produce industry recognized the need for hygienic design, and the International Fresh-Cut Produce Association (which, through a merger, became part of United Fresh) developed a sanitary equipment design buying guide and checklist, based upon 3-A sanitary design standards. Since then, experts have improved upon checklists and promoted them to the fresh-produce industry. Don’t be surprised if customers come to the table with these checklists in hand.
4. Position yourself as a thought leader. To respond to member needs, United Fresh has initiated several efforts to help educate the fresh produce industry- both fresh-cut and packinghouse operations- on Listeria management. Get involved to demonstrate your commitment to hygienic design and help lead the industry. Consider helping as we update our Listeria guidance document, put on Listeria mitigation and control workshops around the country, and develop additional tools and resources for members. FreshTEC 2018 gives OEMs an opportunity to connect with thousands of members of the produce industry, including hundreds of food safety professionals, both on the show floor as well as in a more intimate, food safety setting.
Want to know more about the various efforts United Fresh has underway with respect to hygienic design and Listeria control? Connect with United’s VP Food Safety & Technology, Dr. Jennifer McEntire for additional information.