EUROPE – The European Food Safety Authority Panel on Biological Hazards (EFSA BIOHAZ) has released a comprehensive report shedding light on the microbiological risks associated with water used in the postharvest handling and processing of fresh and frozen fruits, vegetables, and herbs.

The report, commissioned by EFSA, delves into specific hazards, contamination routes, and intervention strategies, providing crucial insights for the food industry.

The findings from the study conducted by the BIOHAZ Panel shed light on critical aspects of microbiological hazards and contamination routes in the fresh and frozen fruits, vegetables, and herbs manufacturing industries, with a particular focus on water-intensive operations.

Outbreak data were found to be in line with previous EFSA opinions on food of non-animal origin, although there was evidence for an increased relative importance of some hazards, including Listeria monocytogenesCryptosporidium parvum, and Yersinia. However, L. monocytogenesSalmonella, and Escherichia coli remain significant.

The report identified various hazards, including Listeria monocytogenes, Salmonella, Escherichia coli, norovirus, Cryptosporidium parvum, and Yersinia, with leafy greens and frozen commodities, especially berries, being commonly associated with outbreaks.

Water disinfection strategies employed in the industry ranged from chemical- to physical- and biological-based treatments, with chlorine-based disinfectants and peroxyacetic acid (PAA) being prevalent.

Emphasis was placed on the validation, monitoring, and verification of intervention strategies to ensure their effectiveness in commercial settings.

The panel recommended that outbreak investigation reports include detailed information about the origin of implicated produce and the type of water used.

Clear guidelines for food business operators regarding water disinfection treatments were deemed essential, and technical guidance should be developed to outline procedures for validation and operational monitoring within water management plans, ensuring microbiological water quality is maintained effectively.

The report underscores the necessity for stringent water management practices in the postharvest handling and processing of fresh and frozen produce.

Food business operators are urged to adhere to validated intervention strategies, implement robust monitoring protocols, and prioritize the microbiological safety of water used in their operations.

By implementing the recommended strategies, food producers can contribute to the overall enhancement of food safety standards across the European Union.

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