Moe, J. 2021, Wash House News - Issue No. 10 - May 2021, Desert Farming Initiative - University of Nevada, Reno

Here is the latest DFI newsletter on produce safety and on-farm risk management extraordinaire. WASH HOUSE NEWS shares lessons learned and the latest information from the world of produce safety. This issue includes a FOCUS on Peppers and Produce Safety.

DFI will be launching a new seasonal newsletter in Fall 2021 that will include all of our usual wash house news, as well as other topics on sustainable agriculture and our northern Nevada food system – stay tuned!

FOCUS: PEPPERS AND PRODUCE SAFETY

This topic is part of an ongoing series to provide concise, crop specific guidance for preventing food borne illness – with DFI’s own practical tips thrown in. Peppers are an essential summer time crop here at DFI, as well as a higher risk type of produce. They have a high water content and can harbor pathogens if they are damaged or affected by heat after harvest. Taking precautions to prevent contamination is important.

Food borne illnesses associated with fresh peppers have primarily been linked to hot varieties that have been imported to the U.S. from other countries according to the FDA’s microbiological sample research summary report on peppers. One of the larger Salmonella outbreaks linked to hot peppers occurred in 2008 across 43 states, caused 1,442 illnesses, and upon investigation was linked specifically to Jalapeno and Serrano peppers where contamination was likely due to irrigation water on the farm site of origin. Sweet pepper varieties such as bell peppers have been linked to very few outbreaks and resulted in only voluntary recalls.

All peppers should be handled with Good Agricultural Practices (GAP’s) from pre to post harvest. Here at DFI, we perform our pre-harvest risk assessment before every harvest to identify hazards; remove any contaminated peppers, leaves and soil; harvest with clean tools into clean containers; and place peppers directly into the cooler without being washed. Any time we can avoid the introduction of water into our wash and pack processes, we do. Water can be a vector that spreads contamination. Key tips for keeping peppers safe are listed below – read more about pepper handling from New Mexico State University.

  • Harvest peppers in the morning and keep them cool during post-harvest handling (do not allow them to sit for more than an hour in direct sunlight).
  • Carefully sanitize surfaces and water during any washing.
  • Remove any damaged or overripe peppers before storage.
  • Cover (while allowing for air flow) and place in cool storage – this reduces food safety risks as well as preventing water loss.

We are looking forward to a healthy harvest of peppers this year! Our starts were just transplanted out into the field and we project we’ll send 700 pounds of King Arthur F1, Gourmet F1 and jalapeños to market this year. To maintain pepper crop safety and quality, we recommend developing a comprehensive food safety plan for the farm, designating someone to oversee its implementation, training workers, and keeping records. Need assistance with produce safety planning or best practices for specific crops? Contact DFI for a free call or visit.

NEWS AND SCIENCE

Produce safety news from DFI: Row Cover and Food Safety Risks

In the high desert, row cover plays an important role in protecting crops from frosty spring nights, foraging wildlife, and insect damage. However, lately we have been considering the potential for food safety risks that could be introduced by our extensive use of row cover at DFI. Row cover is handled by the farm crew daily (moved over the crop during cold nights and back to the side during warm days); it comes into direct contact with crops; it can be contaminated by wildlife visiting or flying over the farm; and it is reused as many seasons as possible (as it is an expensive investment). We know these practices could present contamination risks.

Here are some practices we are trying out to manage these risks related to row cover:

  • No walking on row cover: If row cover must be removed prior to harvesting or during a warm day, one side of the bed is designated for the row cover to rest on (for the duration of that crop’s life in the field). Harvest and other crop management then takes place on the opposite side. This minimizes the risk of contamination from dirty boots. Bed widths may need to be reduced to make this practice feasible.
  • Use hoops under row cover as often as possible: Hoops minimize the amount of contact that row cover has with the crops beneath it.
  • Remove excessively contaminated cover: Row cover with visual contamination from wildlife should be evaluated and replaced if necessary. Long pieces of row cover are not easy to clean, but we will continue thinking on that one.
  • When not in use, store row cover in a protected area: Clean, covered storage will protect row cover from further risks of contamination from wind, water or wildlife borne pathogens. (We find labeling row cover also saves a lot of time when you want to use it again!)
  • Avoid dragging row cover to the field or within the field: Using equipment or recruiting help to move heavy rolls of row cover will prevent dragging that can lead to contamination from high travel areas of the farm.

Want to weigh in or contribute further ideas for reducing food safety risks from row cover? Please send a note to dfi@unr.edu!

TRAINING

The Desert Farming Initiative (DFI) began in 2013, and is a collaboration between the University of Nevada, Reno (UNR), College of Agriculture, Biotechnology, and Natural Resources, Nevada Agricultural Experiment Station (NAES), and Cooperative Extension. DFI is a diversified organic farm at UNR comprised of hoop houses, a propagation greenhouse and 3 acres of field crops.  Currently DFI grows up to 90 varieties of certified organic fruit and vegetables each year for local wholesale and retail markets, as well as food security programs in Reno/Sparks and Tahoe region. DFI supports hands-on student learning, advancement of desert crop production, farm extension, and the sustainability of the regional food system.

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