Article September 20, 2021

Fresh produce: When organic becomes problematic

Fresh produce potentially presents more risks as it is uncooked

Healthier lifestyle choices have led to an increase in the demand for fresh produce, with a particular focus on consuming organic and untreated food. As a result, people are less inclined to eat highly processed goods primarily due to the microbial kill-steps carried out during production. However, fresh produce potentially presents more risks as it is uncooked, with over half of US pathogen outbreaks occurring between 1980 and 2016 being linked to leafy greens and almost a third to soft fruit.

Causes of pathogen outbreaks
The causes for these outbreaks are not definitive as there can be a multitude of potential different sources such as contaminated seeds or water, improper food handling, or cattle contaminating a nearby field. Fresh produce is more susceptible to pathogens growing as a result of the wet environment during processing and warm weather, creating optimum conditions.

There is often no way of killing pathogens prior to releasing the produce, so there is an over-reliance on environmental control at the facility to avoid contamination. This puts producers under a lot of pressure to succeed with their harvest, alongside limitations considering the seasonal nature of many fruits and vegetables. This also increases their vulnerability to loss in sales if something does go wrong. Although hydroponic farms can help reduce the seasonal risk, they are equally vulnerable to microbiological contamination.

Loss of sales
The causes of pathogen outbreaks are not only hard to determine, but it is also difficult to pin down the single product or company that is at fault. For example, in 2019 the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued an advisory stating there has been an outbreak of E. coli infections linked to romaine lettuce harvested from the Salinas Valley growing region in California. Given the product had not been insured, the producer suffered significant financial loss.

Typically, the CDC issues an advisory notice when they identify an immediate threat to human health from a hazardous substance. In the case of fresh produce, this can often be a specific fruit or vegetable grown within a specific region. Similarly, public health advisories by the US Food & Drug Administration (FDA), the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) or the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) are issued for these types of events and can lead to damaging loss of sales.

Protective measures
While producers can do their best to manage their risk when it comes to fresh produce contamination, the risk for a pathogen outbreak can never be entirely removed. Standalone product recall insurance provides vital first party indemnity cover for recall costs, rectification & loss of sales as well as rehabilitation and crisis communication costs, and the protection it provides during a pathogen outbreak should not be underestimated.

For more information about CFC’s product recall policy, please contact