Although it may seem like fall could be actually be called pumpkin spice season, this time of year is also known for apple harvest and when apple cider pops up in grocery stores and farmers markets.
While delicious, both apples and unpasteurized apple cider can cause food safety concerns if not processed correctly. For example, apples have previously been liked to Listeria contamination, and unpasteurized cider to bacteria including Cryptosporidium, Salmonella, E. coli and Listeria monocytogenes.
Listeria is a bacteria found throughout the environment—in soil, water and in some animals. It causes listeriosis, a serious infection marked by nausea, diarrhea, fever and muscle aches that primarily affects older adults, pregnant women, newborns and those with weakened immune systems. For apple processers and packers there are several tips a facility should follow in their environmental monitoring program to help ensure the product is safe. These include:
- Breaking you production runs into lots.
A lot is a code given to finished products that represents a time factor (e.g., day shift). Separating production into lots allows processors to trace the product back through their system and forward through the chain. Using smaller lot sizes can help to minimize the economic impact of recalls because they can be more easily segregated.
- Focus on sanitation.
By implementing a rigorous sanitation verification program, processors can more easily control any Listeria found in the environment. Surfaces that come in contact with food should especially be cleaned regularly to avoid contamination.
- Test for cleanliness.
Using a sanitation verification system that measures the amount adenosine triphosphate (ATP) on the surface will give processors a more reliable result that they can record and track over time. ATP is an enzyme that is present in all living cells, and monitoring systems detect the amount of organic matter that remains after cleaning an environmental surface or piece of equipment.
- Test for pathogens such as Listeria spp.
Processors can guard against a Listeria outbreak by completing microbial testing on a regular basis.
- Document results.
Each facility should have a record-keeping system in place to document all action taken to guard against an outbreak. The records should contain information pertaining to each lot, in addition to general information, such as sanitation and pathogen testing schedules.
By following these steps and implementing a sound environmental monitoring program, apple packers and processors will send a message to regulators, retailers and consumers that they are serious about producing a high-quality product and protecting the public’s health.
On the consumer side, the FDA recommends washing fruits like apples under running water just before eating, cutting, or cooking. The FDA does not recommend the use of soap, detergent, or commercial produce washes. If your main concern is apple cider, however, the most important step you can take to ensure your safety is to check the label, which will tell you if the product has been pasteurized.
“You can’t tell if cider is contaminated just by looking at it,” Iowa’s State Medical Director Patricia Quinlisk said in a recent article. “In fact, there is no difference in smell or taste. The key to preventing illness associated with apple cider is purchasing product that has been pasteurized, or by heating unpasteurized apple cider to at least 170 degrees Fahrenheit.”
Keep in mind, however, the FDA doesn’t require warning labels on juice or cider that is fresh-squeezed and sold by the glass at apple orchards, roadside stands or farmers markets.
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