Food safety considerations have increasingly become important to all farming
operations, and apple orchards are not immune from the potential for
contamination of their crop from harmful agents. One definition of food
safety, from the
University of Rhode Island Cooperative Extension Food Safety Education Program
is "protecting the food supply from microbial, chemical
(i.e. rancidity, browning) and physical (i.e. drying out, infestation) hazards
or contamination that may occur during all stages of food production and
handling-growing, harvesting, processing, transporting, preparing, distributing
and storing. The goal of food safety monitoring is to keep food wholesome."
Apple products have been the focus of a number of food safety-related issues,
including chemical contamination by pesticides, and microbial infection in
cider. While the potential contamination profile may be very different from
crops such as leafy greens or meat and milk, orchardists must consider food
safety implications of their growing and handling practices on their final
Recently much focuson food safety issues has been raised
for apple growers by produce buyers, many of which are requiring GAP or other
certified production systems in order to maintain accounts. GAP, or Good
Agricultural and Handling Practices, is a formal audit program authorized by
USDA and administered by third-party inspectors in each state. Alternative
food safety programs exist and may be acceptable for certain crop buyers. Food
safety programs do not apply only to wholesale growers, however, all growers
should consider food safety practices and develop a written plan for their
USDA Guide to Minimize Microbial Food Safety Hazards for Fresh Fruits and
Cornell Univerity's Food Safety Begins on the Farm
MDA - Good Manufacturing Practices (GMPs) for Michigan Apple Cider
Generally speaking, food safety plans focus on minimizing microbial or other
contamination to the product, and traceability programs to ensure that
contaminated products can be easily recalled. Basic, common-sense steps to
consider in your orchard operation include (excerpted from
Food Safety Checklist for Vermont Apple Orchards):
Note: Manure should not be used in Vermont orchards.
Do you clean equipment (including tires) used to handle manure (perhaps used in
other areas of your operation) before use in orchards or processing areas?
Do you exclude livestock from orchards during the growing season?
Do you take steps to keep wildlife from entering orchards?
Is your orchard or packing area located away from fields or pastures where
manure is spread or a facility where livestock is housed?
from domestic animals and wildlife are a source of pathogens, bacteria and other
disease-causing microorganisms. Feces may contaminate fruit if (i) animals
directly deposit it, (ii) fruit touches the ground or unclean containers (iii)
fruit is handled by people who do not wash their hands after touching ladder
rungs or other surfaces, and (iv) spray water or drift carry pathogens in feces.
The key is to minimize opportunities that feces can directly or indirectly come
in contact with apples.
Efforts to exclude livestock and wildlife can reduce contamination risks in the
orchard, and processing and storage areas. Fencing can exclude domestic and wild
animals. You may have success discouraging deer with repellants, and birds with
noise cannons and scare balloons. Runoff and drift may carry microorganisms that
live in manure. These risks can be reduced by improved management of manure in
livestock yard (e.g. routine scraping) and spread in fields (e.g. incorporation
The photo to the left shows manure in a pick-your-own orchard from horses used
for hayrides. This is very dangerous and is a bad food safety practice.
2. Sources of Water
If you use well water for spray irrigation, mixing pesticides, cooling fruit, or
washing fruit, is your well at least 100 feet from a:
manure storage facility,
septic system drainage field, or
discharge area for milkhouse wastewater?
Do you test your well water sources for fecal coliform
microbes at least once per year?
Have you installed a backflow prevention device or other system to prevent
contamination of clean water supplies by potentially contaminated water?
Sources of Water Actions
Apple growers use water in different aspects of their operation, and should take
steps to insure the quality of the water they use. If you use water from a water
utility or other supplier, you have assurance about your water’s quality. If you
rely on well water, you are responsible for protecting your water supply from
contamination. On-farm threats to wells include livestock operations and septic
tanks. Water can carry microorganisms such as Escherichia coli (E. coli),
Salmonella spp., Cryptosporidium parvum, Giardia lamblia, and the Norwalk and
hepatitis A viruses that may contaminate fruits and vegetables. Even in small
amounts, these microorganisms can cause food-borne illness.
You can protect your well by moving pollution sources. Milkhouse wastewater can
be channeled into a manure storage facility. It may not be feasible to move a
septic system or structure that is too close to a well, so make sure these are
properly managed to prevent problems. Septic tanks should be regularly pumped.
Diverting clean water from entering the facility can reduce runoff from
While you should test your well water annually, pay special attention to tests
if you have pollution sources near your well. Annual testing of private water
sources may be requirement if you are processing foods, e.g. cider, sauces and
Simple actions such as installing a backflow prevention device enable you to
avoid risks before they become contamination problems.
1. Harvest Practices
Do you properly collect and handle dropped apples that are to be used for
pasteurized or cooked products?
Do you avoid cross-contamination by requiring use of separate containers to
collect dropped apples, and washing hands after contact with dropped apples?
Do you properly cull and dispose of decayed, damaged or wormy fruit?
Are totes, bins and other storage containers cleaned before use in the field?
When you stack containers, are apples in the lower container free from contact
with the bottom of the upper container?
Do you inspect and fix or discard containers that are damaged?
Are workers instructed to wash their hands before starting work, after handling
dropped apples, and after using the bathroom, or at other times they become
Do your avoid resting or storing unused ladders on the ground?
When climbing ladders, do individuals place their hands on the side rails where
possible and safe?
Do workers and others who pick apples have convenient access to properly
equipped hand washing stations and clean restrooms in the field and near the
Do you provide workers training about basic sanitation and good hygiene?
Do you exclude workers who have symptoms of infectious diseases: coughing,
Do you require workers to cover infectious wounds with waterproof bandages to
prevent food contamination?
Harvest Practice Actions
During harvest, apples may become contaminated with microbes from contact with
the ground, packing boxes, and workers with poor hygiene or infectious diseases.
Your goal is to reduce the chances that apples will come in contact with sources
of contamination. Dropped apples, which should not be used in cider making, may
pick up microbes from feces and other sources of contamination. Damaged or
decayed fruit can support the growth and reproduction of dangerous microbes.
The surfaces of storage containers can also harbor microbes. Unused containers
should be stored to prevent access by rodents, birds and other wildlife. Your
best protection is to wash containers thoroughly. You will undermine your
efforts to keep containers clean if workers stand in bins during harvest.
Stacking open or damaged containers may allow contamination to pass from apples
in one container to apples in another, particularly if apples touch the bottom
of the container above them.
Good handling practices for equipment includes ladders. They should be placed
upright against walls or buildings when not in use. In regular use, footwear
soils the rungs of a ladder. By not placing hands on the rungs, workers avoid a
source of potential contamination of fruit.
Workers who handle fruit can transmit diseases such as hepatitis A. Precautions
start with clean hands. Supply soap, fresh water and single-use disposal towels
for hand washing. Appropriate restroom facilities can prevent the spread of
diseases. Without training, workers cannot be expected to take advantage of
well-maintained facilities. Appropriate facilities and instructions on the
importance of hand washing are of particular value if you run a pick your own
operation. You should follow procedures to prevent the spread of disease by
excluding sick workers and covering wounds.
Do you follow measures to prevent people who work in the field from carrying
potential contaminants into the processing area?
Before washing, are apples inspected, and is damaged or decaying fruit
Are brushes cleaned and sanitized periodically?
Do you use chlorine or other sanitizing chemicals in your wash water?
Is wash water monitored using test strips or other method to maintain an
adequate level of sanitizing chemicals?
Do apples in a box touch the bottom of a box stacked above?
After each day’s use, do you wash and sanitize lines, belts and other equipment
that comes in contact with fruit?
Do you have a pest control system to minimize rodents, insects and other
unwanted pests in the processing area?
Are pets, livestock or wildlife kept at least 25 feet away from areas where
apples are processed or stored?
Do you maintain the processing area and surrounding grounds free from waste,
improperly stored garbage, and other conditions attractive to pests?
Sanitation and cleanliness carry over from the field to the processing area or
packing house. You should make sure that people who process apples after picking
them, change footwear and clothing, and wash their hands. You can avoid problems
by using a separate crew to process apples, if possible.
Like those who work in the orchard, people who process apples need access to
restroom and hand washing facilities, and should be required to use them. They
need to understand the importance of personal cleanliness and clean equipment.
No worker should be permitted to handle fruit if they have uncovered wounds or
infectious diseases. Brushes and any other equipment that touch apples should be
regularly cleaned and sanitized to avoid the spread of contamination.
While wash water is an important step in preventing contamination, it can become
a source of contamination if not properly managed. The level of sanitizing
chemicals should be checked to insure that it is adequate to kill germs. Check
with state regulators for more information on your options. Changing wash water
daily can reduce risks, and is particularly important if you are not taking
adequate steps to sanitize your wash water.
Regular maintenance is important to sanitation. Every day you should wash and
sanitize lines, belts and other equipment that comes in contact with fruit. As
part of your standard sanitation routine, you should take steps to prevent
animals or pests entering the processing area. If you spray pesticides, make
sure they are suitable for the task, and wash equipment after spraying.
2. Cider Pressing
Before pressing, do you re-inspect apples, and discard damaged or decayed
Do you use only filter cloths specifically designed for cider pressing and
replace them as needed?
Do you use only press racks made of food-grade plastic or wood properly
protected by a food-approved coating?
Is the press rack and other equipment kept off the floor at all times?
Between runs, do you place filter clothes over a clean line or in a clean
Do you use pumps and tubing that are approved for food use?
Do you use as much continuous tubing and limit couplings to as few as possible?
After each day’s use, do you adequately clean all equipment to remove fruit
particles and film and then sanitize?
After each day’s use, do you clean and sanitize press filter cloths, press rack
Do you test sanitizing solution to ensure proper concentrations?
Do you use new containers to package your cider?
If you do not pasteurize your cider, does label information contain an FDA
Do you keep records for each container that enable you identify the date the
cider was pressed, the apples used in making the cider and where the container
Do you have system to insure that the oldest cider is sold first?
Do you enforce sanitation rules such as hand washing and hair nets or caps for
Do you clean and sanitize surfaces that come in contact with food after
pesticide spraying and before food processing?
Do you follow precautions and restrictions when using pesticides in your
processing area to prevent the contamination of food or packaging materials?
Is wastewater drained properly into the sewer or a septic system separate from
the toilet system?
Do you promptly remove and properly dispose of pressed pomace?
Cider Processing Actions
Pressing cider like making apple butter or even caramelizing apples are forms of
processing that raise food safety concerns distinct from production, washing and
packing of raw fruit. Microorganisms (bacteria, yeast, and mold) that
contaminate freshly packaged cider may come from (1) fresh fruit, especially if
it is picked from the ground or its surface is rotted, slightly decayed, or
damaged, (2) the facility, equipment, and water, or (3) people involved in
As a general rule, requirements for processing facilities build on the basic
concepts for washing and packing: maintaining clean and sanitary conditions,
insuring worker hygiene, and reducing opportunities for contamination from
contact with the ground, pests or animals. Additional requirements include
higher standards for facility design and construction to protect against
contamination. Standards for workers may be detailed. For example, hair nets or
caps may be required. Proper storage of processed foods may be required to
Labeling also represents a difference between raw and processed foods. Packaged
foods must have a label that lists:
a. Product name
c. Net quantity
d. The name, address, and zip code of the manufacturer, packer, or distributor
e. Pack, open, pull, freshness, or expiration dates
f. FDA warning label for cider that is not pasteurized or otherwise treated to
kill 99.999% of pathogens such E. coli O157:H7
Besides the basics, labels may include handling instructions ("keep
refrigerated’) and required nutritional information.
Record keeping should be part of processing so you can document what goes into
each container and where each container goes. To trace the origin of cider,
processors often use lot or date coding.
For an extra margin of safety, you may wish to use a qualified laboratory test
for E. coli bacteria in two or more of samples from each orchard supplying
freshly harvested apples.
Pressing apples results in by-products that must be properly disposed of. You
should consult local or state health department about proper disposal of pomace