To refer to microbiological control is to refer to hygiene throughout the entire food chain, from production in the fields to the moment the food arrives in consumers’ homes.
This control is geared towards the detection of microorganisms, toxins and metabolites present in fruit and vegetables in quantities that could pose a risk to health. Regulation EC 2073/2005 establishes the food safety criteria for Salmonella, Listeria monocytogenes and Escherichia Coli, among other hazards. But properly ensuring safety is the result of combining laboratory analysis with quality control practices in the correct management, handling and packaging of crops, and the preservation of products.
At Grupo La Caña we base this microbiological control on three areas:
Microbiological Control During Cultivation
Both subtropical crops (avocados, mangos, custard apples and so on) and our own indigenous crops (cucumbers, green beans, peppers, tomatoes and so on) are plants that do not come into direct contact with the soil as they grow, so that the possibility of microbiological contamination by direct contact with the produce is virtually nil.
In the case of vegetable crops the plants are grown using the “tutoring” technique, which is based on creating a structure to train the vertical growth of the plant. This ensures first that direct contact between the fruit and the soil is avoided, while improving the aeration of the plants, and secondly aids microbiological control, since conditions of high humidity and temperature would favour the proliferation of such microorganisms.
In cases where animal-derived fertiliser is used in order to improve the characteristics of the soil, we add the fertiliser to our crops only after it has been fermented (1). This, combined with the process of solarisation, (2) significantly reduces the risk of microbiological contamination, because it generates temperatures of 70-80 ºC; this renders any microorganisms present in the soil inactive, so that both bacteria and fungi and the remaining pathogens are unable to develop.
Water can also be a source of bacteriological contamination for crops, which is why foul water with faecal matter is never used. Even so, the water used for irrigation in our cultivation system never comes into direct contact with the fruit.
Microbiological control during packaging
Microbiological control in the handling area in based on hygiene standards in the produce contact zones. First, all the plastic boxes in which our produce is stored are washed once they have been used. Secondly, for produce that has already been calibrated, boxes of different colours are used, for the exclusive use of our facilities, thereby avoiding contact with the exterior and a possible source of external contamination.
At Grupo La Caña we have drawn up a code of good practice for handling and packaging, whereby all our workers receive training that equips them with the knowledge needed to avoid the contamination of our produce. This includes the exclusive use of work clothes for the handling area, for example, and training in the proper washing and disinfection of their hands.
Moreover, we have a dedicated team of cleaners charged with the daily task of disinfecting all the surfaces where our produce circulates; preventative measures such as these are fundamental for avoiding bacterial contamination.
Our cold stores are equipped with devices for purifying the air, as well as temperature and humidity control mechanisms; these come with a built-in alarm system that enable us to establish the perfect conditions for storing our produce.
This type of control is carried out at Grupo La Caña by adhering to our Analytical Plan, which stipulates the undertaking of microbiological analyses of irrigation water in fulfilment of the GLOBALG.A.P. standard, as well as a wide range of analyses of objects that come into contact with the produce, such as surfaces, utensils, work clothing, etc.
These analyses are carried out by specialised laboratories in order to verify compliance with the criteria set out by EC regulation 2073/2005.
It should be noted that the subtropical fruit and the vegetables sold by Grupo La Caña carry a minimal degree of microbiological risk for a variety of reasons.
At Grupo La Caña we are aware of the importance of microbiological control at all stages of the production process, and they are meticulously evaluated by the Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) team.
Due to all the above, we are able to ensure a minimal risk of microbiological contamination throughout the production chain