Products from around 20 countries around the world live together in an average supermarket in the United States. Meat, canned goods, manufactures, fruits, and vegetables… exporting to North America seems increasingly accessible to foreign producers and its market is still attractive. However, taking the crop from the field to North American supermarkets still presents important obstacles for producers.
Health risk in Exports
In 2002, an outbreak of salmonella derived from fruit consumption cost the lives of two people in the United States and hospitalized 18 more. As a result, the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) rejected all cantaloupe melons from Mexico. In 2007, six shipments of this same fruit were rejected for the same reason.
The rejection of melons by the FDA is not an isolated case: fruits and vegetables top the list of imported products that remain at the borders of the United States, with 26.6% of incidents, above fish and shellfish.
The reasons for the majority of rejections on imported products in the United States revolve around sanitary violations, damage to the integrity of the packaging, errors in the labeling of products and not having registered the company or its processes properly.
Export rejection of fruits and vegetables to the United States.
Since sanitary violations are one of the main reasons for the rejection of exports to the United States, having a system that ensures the health of the crop is essential to achieve a successful export.
The FDA’s policy regarding health risk, and specifically the microbial risk in foods such as fruits and vegetables, is very clear: we must work to prevent outbreaks before relying on corrective measures. Since 1998, the agency published a series of directives with the Department of Health and Human Services and the Center for Fruit Health and Applied Nutrition (CFSAN). Since then, it has been a very useful guide for those who aspire to export their products to the USA.
It is preferable to prevent microbiological contamination of fruits and vegetables than to rely on actions to combat such contamination once it takes place.
The document, publicly searchable, is considered a guide and in no way determines a regulation or obligation on the part of the producers. However, following the recommendations provided by the document is very useful for achieving good agricultural practices and, therefore, more attractive products for the market.
Completely eliminating the microbial risk in export fruits and vegetables is still an unattainable goal, but minimizing it is the responsibility of each producer. Although it is not extensive, the list of factors to be taken into account is very useful for good agricultural practices and prevent health risk:
- A) Water
Water that comes into contact with the crop in activities such as irrigation or pesticide application presents a wide possibility of contamination by microorganisms. The quality of the water that comes into contact with the edible part of the fruits and vegetables must be superior to that of the water that has minimal contact with that area.
- B) Manure and solid municipal organic waste
There are multiple treatments to reduce the levels of pathogenic microorganisms in manure. Liabilities, such as the waiting period before applying manure, depending on fluctuations in temperature, humidity, and ultraviolet rays. The assets, such as pasteurization, heat drying, anachronistic digestion, etc. It requires more management and investment.
- C) Health and hygiene of workers
Although this factor should be basic for the reduction of health risk, many times employees who suffer from infections continue to work with fruits and vegetables, increasing the risk of foodborne illness.
Training all employees in good hygienic practices and identifying the symptoms of infectious diseases is key to the safe production of fruits and vegetables.
- D) Sanitary facilities
Control of sewage and other waste reduces the likelihood of contaminating fruits and vegetables, protecting both employees and consumers. The toilets and sink must be easily accessible and well-stocked and clean.
- E) Health in the field
Good practices in the field include both cleanings of storage facilities, discarding damaged containers and cleaning containers and pails before use.
Fruits and vegetables that are washed, cooled and packed on the ground should avoid contamination with manure and solid waste.
- F) Cleaning of packing facilities
Dust and sludge from fruits and vegetables must be cleaned before arriving at packing facilities. Platforms, containers, and buckets should be cleaned before using them to transport fresh fruits and vegetables. Proper cooling of the facilities also guarantees a longer service life.
- G) Transportation
When fruits and vegetables leave the field towards the market, they are not without risk of microbiological contamination. Transport vehicles must be kept clean and the appropriate temperatures maintained to preserve the quality and safety of fruits and vegetables.
The golden rule for the successful export of fruits and vegetables is to have an excellent quality product.
It is true: the export of fruits and vegetables to the United States requires a process and procedures that often focus the attention of the producers. However, this does not have to omit a basic point: for a successful export, the first thing to take care of is the quality of the products.
The attention that fruit and vegetable producers pay to each of these factors suggested by the FDA will be reflected in their quality, reducing microbial risk and rejection of cargo in customs.
All companies that decide to export products to the United States have to process their registration with the FDA Food and Drug Administration. Therefore, organizations that manufacture, re-pack, or re-label products in the aforementioned industries must register with the FDA, with the exception of cosmetics, where registration is voluntary.