Fresh fruit and vegetable shippers can do a lot to design food safety into their operations, starting with the facility itself.

The Food and Drug Administration offers a number of key points to consider to maximize safety and efficiency for fresh produce packing and processing facilities.

FDA guidelines recommend processing facilities — including walls, ceilings, floors, windows, doors, vents and drains — be easy to clean to protect product from microbial, physical or chemical contamination.

Food contact surfaces should be smooth, non-absorbent, smoothly bonded and sealed to make them easier to clean and discourage the presence of pathogens.

Keep that in mind for staging areas, receiving docks, coolers, processing and packing lines, and cooling or storage areas.

If wooden equipment such as pallets or bins is used, make sure it is in good condition and well maintained so it doesn’t become a source of physical or microbial contamination.

Here are some big-picture considerations FDA suggests for facility layout planning:

Separate raw incoming product and finished product areas;

Locate doors to the outside in an area other than into a processing area;

If there’s an on-site microbiology lab, have its access into an area other than into a processing area;

Store in-process and raw produce materials in separate rooms, including dedicated cold rooms for raw product and processed product;

Locate hand washing and sanitizing equipment to facilitate its use by employees;

Use short, direct routes for product and personnel flow;

Design the operation for one direction of personnel traffic, product and airflow;

Color code bins, totes, clothing, cleaning implements and maintenance tools;

Adequately screen windows, vents and fans to keep out pests such as insects, birds and rodents;

Keep exterior doors closed when not in use and make sure seals are adequate when exterior doors and entrances are closed;

Keep the number of entrances and exits to the processing areas to a minimum.


Don’t get crossed up

Direct cross-contamination of produce can be reduced by keeping product flow in mind during the design stage.

Consider locating a disinfectant foot foam, foot bath or foot spray at all access points to all production and finished product areas.

Installing a system such as Henderson, Colo.-based Birko Corp.’s entryway foamer can help keep employees’ footwear and forklift wheels from spreading E. coli, salmonella, listeria and other pathogens around your processing plant.

Birko’s fully automatic systems replenishes heavy antibacterial foam as needed throughout the shift and can be set up as a standalone unit or linked in multiple units to a central chemical source.


Air and water issues

Properly slope floors to drains (a quarter-inch per foot) and seal and keeping them well maintained to provide adequate drainage, FDA urges.

Design floor drains to prevent water accumulation in or around the drains and fit floor drains with seals and grates to keep out pests.

Use under-floor drains in fresh-cut produce processing areas.

Design collection areas for wastewater to prevent product and equipment contamination, and design pipelines to prevent condensation. Where overhead condensate cannot be prevented, use catch pans and sanitize them on a regular basis.

Use an air filtration system for central air distribution and airflow should be counter to product flow, so that filtered air moves with a positive pressure from the cleanest areas.

For a more in-depth list of FDA’s facility design guidelines, go to