Safeguarding Produce: EFSA Reports on Microbial Hazards of Water Used in Postharvest Handling

The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) is a trusted source of information and guidance on food safety. On November 3, 2023, the EFSA Panel on Biological Hazards (BIOHAZ) published their study findings on the microbial hazards associated with water used in the postharvest handling and processing of fresh and frozen fruits, vegetables, and herbs.

The detailed report provides important insights into the potential routes and rates of contamination, essential intervention strategies needed to ensure water quality, and the critical parameters for assessing and maintaining the microbiological safety of produce.

Understanding the Risks

Water plays a crucial role in postharvest handling and processing operations, but it can also be a potential source of contamination for fresh and frozen produce. Contamination can happen at any stage, from primary production to postharvest processing. Pathogens like Salmonella, Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC), Yersinia, and Cryptosporidium parvum can be transmitted through the fecal-oral route, which poses a significant risk. The report emphasizes the importance of maintaining water quality and preventing contamination to ensure the safety of produce.

Outbreak Insights

The analysis of foodborne illness outbreaks revealed that fresh-whole or cut leafy greens were the primary vehicle for outbreaks associated with E. coli, norovirus, Salmonella, Listeria monocytogenes, Yersinia enterocolitica, and C. parvum. Frozen commodities, particularly berries, were common vehicles for viral outbreaks. Additionally, frozen corn was responsible for a listeriosis outbreak, while sprouts, Salmonella, kale, and C. parvum were implicated in other outbreaks.

Managing Water Quality

A comprehensive water management plan is essential to mitigate the risks associated with contaminated water effectively. This plan should encompass two key pillars:

  1. Preventive Measures: Implementing good hygienic and manufacturing practices (GHPs and GMPs), including technical maintenance, staff training, and cooling of postharvest process water, is crucial to prevent contamination.
  2. Interventions: Validated, monitored, and verified interventions, such as water disinfection treatment and water replenishment, can further enhance water quality. 

Disinfection Strategies

The report explores various water disinfection strategies, including chemical-, physical- and biological-based treatments, often combined. Chlorine-based disinfectants and peroxyacetic acid (PAA) are commonly used to treat process water for washing fresh-whole and fresh-cut fruits and vegetables. However, there is a need for more research on the efficacy of these treatments under industrial conditions.

Validation and Monitoring

Validation, monitoring, and verification are essential to a successful water management plan. Validation procedures allow food business operators to determine the ideal operational conditions for their water management strategy. As part of a Food Safety Management System (FSMS), regular verification ensures that the water management strategies are functioning effectively and that the process water meets the necessary microbiological quality standards.

EFSA Recommendations

Based on its findings, EFSA BIOHAZ recommends the following:

  1. Enhanced Outbreak Investigation Reports:
    • More detailed information should be included in outbreak investigation reports, including the origin of implicated raw fruits, vegetables, and herbs, whether the commodity has undergone postharvest processing, and the possible role of different water sources in pathogen transmission.
  2. Clear Guidelines for Food Business Operators:
    • Specific and clear guidelines should be provided to food business operators, clarifying the requirements for using water disinfection treatments to maintain the microbiological quality of water in postharvest handling and processing operations.
  3. Technical Guidance on Water Management Plan Implementation:
    • Technical guidance outlining the procedures for validation, operational monitoring, and verification of intervention strategies within a water management plan process should be developed.


The report by EFSA on microbial hazards associated with water used in postharvest produce handling provides valuable insights for ensuring the safety of fresh and frozen fruits, vegetables, and herbs. The food industry can minimize the risks associated with contaminated water by implementing effective water management plans and adhering to evidence-based practices. This will help safeguard consumers from foodborne illnesses.

Novolyze's Sanitation Complete: A Solution to Mitigate Water-Related Microbial Hazards in Postharvest Handling

In response to the EFSA's report, it's evident that innovative solutions are crucial to safeguarding fresh and frozen produce. Novolyze's Sanitation Complete stands as a powerful tool to address the challenges outlined in the EFSA findings.

Achieve unparalleled food safety and quality assurance levels with the Sanitation Complete solution. Our innovative technology offers real-time monitoring and alerts, advanced data analytics, and comprehensive validation and monitoring capabilities, ensuring consistent water quality and compliance with sanitation standards. With streamlined sample management, compliance documentation, and environmental monitoring at your fingertips, incident reporting and corrective actions become swift and efficient. By partnering with us, you can meet and exceed EFSA recommendations and, most importantly, safeguard consumers from foodborne illnesses. Join us in transforming food safety and quality in today's food and beverage industry!

Novolyze can help elevate your food safety program, reduce your recall risk, and ensure compliance. Learn more:

Request a Sanitation Complete Call