a. Water for Production:
Much like wild and domestic animals, water used to grow produce can also carry human pathogens like Salmonella, E. coli o157:H7, Giardia, and Cryptosporidium which may
contaminate fresh produce. To reduce this risk, farms should create a map to track all water sources and distribution paths, choose water application methods that minimize contact with edible parts of produce, test water regularly*, keep records using Logs, and have Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) in place.
b. Post-Harvest Water:
Water that contacts produce at or after harvest, such as during rinsing, washing, cooling, waxing, icing, or moving is considered post-harvest water. This kind of water can cross-contaminate produce, even if the necessary precautions were taken for production water. To prevent contamination of produce, farms should only use water that is potable (equivalent to drinking water), use appropriate sanitizers with Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), change dirty bulk tank water, maintain bulk water temperature at the same as or less than 10° warmer than pulp temperature, clean tanks/bins/washers every day, and document post-harvest water usage using Logs. Specifically for maintaining bulk tank water temperature, if water is cooler than certain produce like tomatoes, apples, and cantaloupes, water can be drawn inside, increasing risk of contamination. And if the tank is too deep, higher water pressures can push contaminants inside produce (infiltration). Make sure you have Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) to help workers stay on track.
Here’s a list of approved Wash to Process Water Sanitizers.
c. Need to get your water tested?:
Farm water, if it is not “city water” can contain pathogens. Under certain circumstances, these pathogens can adhere to the outside of a raw agricultural product or in very rare instances, be taken up inside the plant. For a GAP audit, you will need to have your water tested for E. coli per 100 ml.
Here’s a list of FDA approved Water Tests.
Visit the Food and Water Testing Laboratories page for more info and a list of testing labs. If you find a lab you like, make sure they do the required tests and check on the costs.
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Proper compliance of practices is crucial for the safety and success of your farm. For more information and educational materials, visit Cornell University’s GAPs and Cornell University’s Produce Safety Alliance. Once you’ve familiarized yourself with this topic, you can move on to others!* Refer to the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) Produce Rule for specific water criteria and bacteria count as it applies to your farm.
Water Risk Assessment: coming soon!