Quality assurance schemes for fresh produce
Page last updated: Tuesday, 24 August 2021 - 8:30am
Fresh food businesses are faced with the challenge of creating a food safety culture, maintaining best practice and retaining customer confidence, while effectively managing overall costs.
Quality assurance in the food production sector is rigorous but defining quality assurance, knowing and assessing the food safety risks and doing your research on code compliance is a step in the right direction.
Defining quality assurance
Quality assurance (QA) schemes for fresh produce are designed to enable producers to demonstrate that their on-farm practices allow them to produce safe food products that meet Australian food safety standards under the Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code (the Code).
Non-compliance with food safety laws can lead to fines, loss of business opportunity or even closure.
Fresh produce can include meat, fruit, vegetables, herbs and nuts supplied for sale in the wholesale, retail and food service sectors, or used for further processing. For more information about quality assurance schemes for meat see the Meat and Livestock Australia website.
Since 2000, the number of QA schemes has increased significantly. The main aim for QA schemes is to encourage producers to think about their on-farm practices and how they impact the safety of the fresh food they produce and sell.
On the farm there are a number of food safety hazards associated with producing fresh produce.
Hazards can arise during the growing, harvesting, packing, storage or distribution stages of production and are categorised as microbiological, chemical or physical.
Microbiological food safety hazards
Microbiological food safety pathogens include some bacteria, viruses, parasites, algae and fungi. Contamination can arise from a poor understanding of:
the use of untreated organic animal manure used as fertiliser or soil ameliorant during production
pathogen contamination of picked produce prior to packing
water as a pathogen carrier
good hygiene practices after eating, smoking and ablutions
cleaning and sanitation
pest management to control pathogen numbers in picking, harvesting and packing facilities.
Chemical food safety hazards
The chemicals we use in our production systems can become food safety hazards if not used as intended by the manufacturer and the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority (APVMA).
Registration with APVMA is the process required by law for each compound offered for sale.
Chemicals that could become hazards include fungicides, pesticides, herbicides, cleaners and sanitisers.
Food safety hazards could occur where chemical residues in excess of their registration design limits are exceeded — termed maximum residue limits (MRL).
MRL violations in fresh produce occur when chemicals are not used as detailed on their labels.
Produce grown in soils contaminated with heavy metals can also be a food safety risk and there are residue limits set in law — termed extraneous residue limits (ERL).
ERL violations occur on fresh produce where heavy metal comes in contact with, or is produced in, contaminated soil.
Chemical food safety hazards can be caused by:
incorrect storage or mixing of chemicals
chemicals not used according to manufacturers/APVMA requirements
withholding periods not observed
spray drift from applications in adjacent crops
equipment not cleaned between uses
accidental spillage or unsuitable storage conditions
food grade cleaners and sanitisers not used in food production systems
planting of ground grown fresh produce in soil contaminated with heavy metals.
Physical food safety hazards
Physical food safety hazards found in or on fresh produce include foreign objects from the production environment, equipment or inputs due to human handling.
Sources of physical contamination may be:
harvesting of ground crops during wet weather
dirty, damaged or broken equipment
careless or untrained staff.
Other sources can include stones, glass, sand, sprinkler parts, needles, metal shavings, bandaids, cigarette butts and jewellery.
Assessing the risks
For businesses involved in the production of fresh produce it is imperative that they can demonstrate they have assessed all food safety hazards on-farm.
QA systems incorporating the Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points' (HACCP) 12 step method are required by law as a food safety tool.
This system allows you to identify where food hazards may occur in your system, their risk to a finished product and how they could be managed to prevent or minimise the risk of contamination.
There are ten key input areas where food safety risks may need to be managed:
planting or crop resource material
fertiliser and soil additives
facilities, equipment, containers, materials and vehicles
animals and pests
product identification, traceability and recall
The risk of contamination can vary considerably and may depend on the type of produce grown, the methods used in production (above or below ground) and the location and its history.
Quality Control in the Produce Industry
The fresh fruit & vegetable industry is a fascinating place to be. Don’t think of it as watching asparagus growing in a field. Think of a vast industry that operates with just-in-time delivery of perishable products, many with limited shelf life and very specific storage temperatures. As someone said to me many years ago when he had a load of California table grapes stuck at the border, “This isn’t hardware, you know!”
Take a look around a produce department. Look at where all of those products came from. Carrots from Bradford. Tomatoes from Leamington. Kiwi from Italy. Grapes from South Africa. Asparagus from Peru. The list goes on and on. So how can it all look so good at your local store when it has travelled for hours, days or weeks? Quality control (QC) at multiple points in the journey.
The QC people ensure that whatever arrives at their back door is what was ordered by the buyers. It has to be fresh, crisp and bright. If it is dull, wilted, discoloured or decayed, it isn’t going to make it to the retail displays. Decisions have to be taken quickly. Is it to be rejected or regraded? Was it in suitable shipping condition before it left its point of origin, or was it damaged in transit? Is it the correct variety, size, colour, firmness or sweetness?
Fresh produce has to be cut, dug or picked. It has to be cooled as quickly as possible. It has to be graded to some sort of grade standards or retail specifications. It has to be properly packed and palletized in a manner that ensures that it is delivered in saleable condition. A receiver has to check temperatures on arrival. A QC person has to make sure that the product actually meets certain quality and condition criteria on arrival. All of this has to be done with international good agricultural practices in mind, and food safety at the forefront of every turn that the produce takes.
Where could you fit into this massive industry? Think of what you know, or what you want to learn. You don’t need to know how to drive a tractor if you live in the city. You don’t need to know how to grade citrus fruit if you live in Northern Ontario, either. Canada relies on over 60,000 temporary foreign workers every year to plant, care for, harvest and pack fresh fruits and vegetable across Canada. It is hard work, long hours, and the weather does not always cooperate. It can be very rewarding to harvest what you tended to during the growing season.
If you want to work in the produce industry in Ontario, start here. This new Ontario website gathers job listings and resources for grocery retail, food processing, distribution, agriculture and agribusinesses. The website is available at Ontario.ca/AgFoodJobs.
You can work on a farm without having a bundle of certifications, but you may wish to pursue some training to get ahead. A good understanding of good agricultural practices and food safety can be gleaned from this website: https://www.canadagap.ca/ If you secure employment on a farm, in a greenhouse, or even in a packing plant, you may wish to sign up for the training and be certified. The same goes for handling agricultural chemicals in Ontario. Information on that program is here:
If you want to operate machinery in your new job, you will need this type of certification here:
People who are going for an interview for a quality control job should know a little about grade standards and why we have them. Grade standards are considered to be a common language in the produce industry. This means that a Canadian importer could use a broker in the United States to source table grapes from Chile, and everybody knows what is expected. In Canada, we have grade standards for thirty fresh fruits and vegetables. They are housed in the Safe Food For Canadians Regulations here:
If you are not sure what you just read, those grade standards are interpreted here in government inspection manuals here:
It doesn’t matter if you live in the country or the city, QC is just as important at shipping point as it is at destination. Shippers have to ensure that what is leaving the packing plant is going to meet the customers’ requirements. QC staff in the receiving warehouses have to make sure that what is arriving is up to standard. If something is “just passing through” a retail chain’s distribution centre, a wholesale’s warehouse on the way to a retailer, or a cold storage, QC will most likely check the produce again on the way out.
Good food is expensive, and it requires good people throughout the supply chain to monitor it. If you think that you have what it takes, talk to someone. Visit a grower, make an appointment to meet QC people in the wholesale or retail business, talk to your local green grocer or produce manager. Start at your local retail store if that is your only option. Get a foot in the door and learn.
What is quality control in fruits and vegetables?
When it comes to buying in a supermarket, a fruit & vegetable store or in a market, they tend to recognize certain characteristics of the fruits and vegetables they consume: the touch, the size, the consistency and, of course, the flavor. To make this experience consistent, all fruits and vegetables go through a quality control that allows to test that what the consumer is expecting will be effectively fulfilled.
What is quality control?
It is an exploration carried out at different levels and scales to fruits and vegetables to determine if they adequately comply with the expected characteristics to reach a final consumer.
What is taken into account in a quality control?
This feature helps to determine the degree of ripeness of a fruit, is done regularly with a penetrometer directly from the fruit in the field.
This may be one of the most important characteristics, given it allows the consumer to have the feeling that a product is in good condition. There are two ways toperform this measurement: visually or instrumentally, where you can resort to a color chart inside which the product must be or performed with a colorimeter.
It is everything that involves the physical form of the fruit or vegetable, such as size, weight or curvature. Instruments such as scales, sizing machines and tape measures are used to make this measurement.
Especially in fruits such as citrus, a factor that can be decisive is the aroma that the fruit gives off. This smell comes from aromatic substances present in both the skin and the pulp. Currently, one way to measure it through technology is through a gas chromatography combined with mass spectrometry.
1. Soluble solids
This measurement is made with a refractometer and allows to know the amount of sugar present in a sample, normally known as the brix scale. This number allows not only to know the amount of sugars, but also indicates the maturity of the fruit and indicates the best time to harvest it.
It is obtained through the juice of the fruit with a pH electrode. In addition to the level of acidity present in the product being known, it allows to know what possibility exists of proliferation of microbes, since this factor directly affects the ease with which external agents can enter.
The quality control is carried out from the harvest in the field until its arrival to the supermarkets, but as we can see a great part of the process is carried out in the production, where the producers ensure that the maturation and physiognomy of the productis the suitable one so that when it arrives to the final consumer it has enough life to be bought and, later, eaten.
A good treatment in the quality control allows the products to always arrive fresh and with good flavor to the plate of dozens of homes, avoiding this way dozens ofwastes in the way!
FRESH PRODUCE QUALITY TESTING
FRUITS & VEGETABLES QUALITY CONTROL
Fruits & Vegetable Inspections
Fruits and vegetables are delicate products in regards to shipping. Due to this, HQTS understand the need for safe and fast shipment and storage. With this in mind, we provide a wide variety of inspection services to better understand your supply chain processes and suppliers’ capability to align with your business objectives.
These services include:
During production Inspection
Loading Supervision/Discharging Supervision
Fresh Produce Factory Inspection Audits.
Food products perish quickly. It is essential to choose a Factory that uses correct and efficient manufacturing processes. We assist in this decision-making process by providing inspections audits to look at suppliers activities, such as their food hygiene and storage capabilities. This helps in making the right business decisions to allow for a safe and efficient supply chain.
Our Factory inspections include:
Social Compliance Audits
Factory Technical Capability Audits
Food Hygiene Audits
Fruit and Vegetables Testing
We conduct an extensive array of testing for fruit and vegetables, allowing for a clear understanding of their quality. These tests look for potential risks within the product to minimise any delays or potential dangers. We also engage in shipment tests to make sure proper packaging and storage practices are upheld. Testing is an essential part of a safe supply chain, and HQTS provides innovative and ever-evolving solutions.
Our tests include:
Chemical Component Analysis
Food Contact and Package Testing
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