Food Safety a Growing Issue in Groves
Illnesses linked to fresh produce
have doubled since the 1980s.
of Article: http://www.theledger.com/article/20090821/NEWS/908215041?Title=Food-Safety-a-Growing-Issue-in-Groves
By Kevin Bouffard
August 21, 2009 at 6:48 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, August 21, 2009 at 6:48 p.m.
FORT MYERS | Mom told the truth about the health
benefits of eating more fruits and vegetables, but she left out the
downside about the rise in foodborne illness.
Cases of illness
in the U.S. linked to eating fresh produce have more than doubled since the
1970s and 1980s, Renee Goodrich, associate professor of food science and
human nutrition at the University of Florida in Gainesville, told a couple
hundred growers Thursday at the Citrus Expo in Fort Myers.
The decade ending 2006 saw 72 produce-related outbreaks, including 19
linked to lettuce and 13 to tomatoes at the top of that list.
That and greater media scrutiny given to food-related disease means
citrus growers, particularly those selling in the fresh market, must pay
more attention to sanitary practices in the grove, Goodrich said.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control estimates 76 million cases of
foodborne disease annually, resulting in 350,000 hospitalizations and about
5,000 deaths, said Michelle Danyluk, a professor of food microbiology at
UF's Citrus Research and Education Center in Lake Alfred .
Because a foodborne illness can be as simple as a case of diarrhea, the
CDC estimates just one in 40 to 100 cases gets reported, she said. Still,
the agency estimates such illnesses cost the U.S. economy $1.4 trillion
The rise in cases stems in part from the fact we've taken mom's advice
to heart, or more aptly to stomach. From 1970 to 1997, the U.S. per-capita
consumption of fruits and vegetables increased 24 percent to 718 pounds per
year, Goodrich said.
Except for one small case of salmonella-tainted, fresh-squeezed orange
juice earlier this decade, Florida citrus has avoided the economic damage
that comes with the link to a major foodborne disease outbreak, Goodrich
said. But they need only ask the tomato grower next door about the
Florida tomato growers are still angry about last year's nationwide
salmonella outbreak, which resulted in about $100 million in lost sales.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration first linked the outbreak to fresh
tomatoes but later fingered Mexican peppers as the culprit.
Even before that outbreak, Florida tomato growers have required that
federal Good Agricultural Practices (GAPs) guidelines be followed, Goodrich
Using clean water in all grove operations, including irrigation and for
mixing chemicals, is one of the most important guidelines because of E.
coli, a waterborne pathogen that can be fatal if ingested, she said. If
potable water is not available or practical economically, growers should
test their water sources frequently and record the results.
Keeping records of all sanitation practices is a must, Goodrich said.
"If you did it, record it. If you don't, a (federal) inspector will
assume it did not happen," she said.
Another key guideline involves reducing the contamination threat from
manure, which contains E. coli, Goodrich said. Manure from wild and
domesticated animals has caused many foodborne disease outbreaks.
Danyluk discussed the results of research on the effects of mechanical
harvesting systems that involve shaking the fruit from the tree, then
picking it up from the ground. Some worried even the brief ground contact
would contaminate the fruit.
The research shows little contamination from fruit lying on the ground
but an increased risk of E. coli contamination when using a machine that
catches fruit falling from the shaken tree, Danyluk said. Ironically, the
catch systems were developed out of a concern regarding ground
The contamination probably occurred because the machines picked up the
E. coli and passed it on to the harvested fruit, she said.
"This highlights the need for disinfecting all equipment,"