This is where the whole process
starts. I know the current buzzword is
“field to fork,” and it is one of the few
terms I like to use because it reflects the
required approach, especially in the IQF
vegetable world. Fields that are free of
trash, road debris, used containers, and
discarded employee personal protective
equipment are a good indicator that
the farmer and/or farm manager understands the importance of maintaining
a clean environment for the crops to
grow and the employees to work in. A
clean field is critical with a mechanically
harvested crop because if small wildlife,
trash, and/or debris are present, the
harvester may include them with the
In some cases, the difference between
hand harvested and machine harvested
is the potential to increase the risk of
FM. Spinach is a product that has an
inherent discrepancy between hand
and machine harvested. If the product
is hand harvested, the risk for field-originated FM is mitigated because of
the cutting technique used by the employees. Machine harvested has a higher
potential to extract debris during the
process. Farmers that employ a Good
Agricultural Practices program account
for that risk and mitigate it by consistent removal of debris from the fields.
Here is a brief description of the
GLOBALG.A.P. program from their
website.1 “The GLOBALG.A.P. Fruit &
Vegetables Standard covers all stages of
production, from preharvest activities
such as soil management and plant-
protection product application to post-
harvest produce handling, packing, and
storing. This standard has been success-
fully assessed against the Global Food
Safety Initiative (GFSI) benchmarking
requirements2 and achieved GFSI rec-
ognition for scope B1 Farming of Plants
and D Pre-Processing Handling of Plant
Walking the fields and then onto the production floor provides you with the sights,
smells, sounds, and feel of the process. I thrive on that. I need that interaction to
give me an understanding of whom I am dealing with and what we are really going
to buy from them. As the old adage states: “Nobody sends you a bad sample.” If
you can’t go to the supplier for budgetary reasons, find somebody you trust to get in
there and walk that field and factory.
Now, I think if you’ve made it this far into the article, you are preparing to take
notes in regard to all these “little things” I am going to drop on you…but that is not
the case. Only one big thing matters most in the IQF vegetable world. It is very common in the food industry and is applicable across the food ingredient categories.
The one big thing is: cleaning. Yes, that’s it! Well, it comprises a multitude of little
things that will be covered further into the discussion.
Here is a basic rundown of how cleaning affects the overall process and product:
1. Cleaning the fields throughout the growing season and prior to harvest prevents
foreign material (FM) and microbiological waste from contaminating the harvested product.
2. Washing the product prior to entering the factory removes pesticide residue, microbiological organisms, yeast/mold, and FM.
3. Cleaning the dicer/slicer/chopping equipment throughout the shift reduces the
increase in microbial load during the shift (heat generation) and allows operators
to either check the blades to identify wear to prevent FM contamination or identify damaged blades and place product on hold back to the last good check.
4. Effective sanitation practices and inspection for wear of equipment in zones 1
and 2 after the blancher and/or lethality step can prevent post-process microbial
and FM contamination.
5. Proper freezer coil, conveyor framework, and paneling sanitation inside the
freezer prevents microbial harborage and product contamination. Inspection of
conveyor belts during the cleaning process can detect abnormal wear and prevent
6. Validated cleaning of equipment, floors, and forklift/pallet jacks in the packaging
area prevents microbial harborage from contaminating finished product.
7. Proper cleaning/inspection of finished-product freezer storage reduces the potential for pallet debris, compromised packaging, and structural failure, which can
lead to FM and microbial contamination.
If you need additional detailed information on the steps within an IQF vegetable
process, keep reading and you’ll find it. The further you delve into the type of process, the greater your understanding of how simple yet crucial each process is to the
whole operation. The “little things” are the intricacies involved in each stage of the