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Food safety and the heat
Pathogenic bacteria thrive in warm temperatures, so pay particular attention to food safety when harvesting, washing, packing, and storing produce in the summer. The guiding principle in food safety should be to prevent pathogens from getting onto your produce in the first place. A set of standards known as Good Agricultural Practices (GAPs) is designed to do just that.
GAPs help you identify potential sources of contamination such as irrigation water, wash water, personal hygiene, packing shed cleanliness, harvest tools and containers, and manure use. For the most part, GAPs are common-sense rules of sanitation such as washing after using the bathroom and using potable running water to wash vegetables. At this time, GAPs are still completely voluntary. However, some wholesale buyers are requiring growers to undergo a GAPs certification process to ensure the rules are being followed. And many people assume that GAPs will eventually become mandatory.
To learn more about GAPs and how your farm measures up to food safety guidelines, see the self-audit created by the University of California. http://ucce.ucdavis.edu/files/filelibrary/5453/4362.pdf
The sooner you can remove field heat from your produce, the better. Produce can be hydrocooled by submerging in cold water before packing it. Water must be clean or you'll do more harm than good by spreading pathogens throughout the harvested produce. Ideally, you also have a cooler where you can store produce until you take it to market. Walk-in coolers can be expensive to buy and maintain, though, and many small growers build their own to save money. Cold temperatures are possible with a Cool-Bot, www.storeitcold.com, a device that allows a window air conditioner to cool down to 33°F without icing up.
Reprinted from JSS Advantage August 2010