Food Handling – Safe Practices Prevail
The safe handling of Trusted Freshness® produce from seed to store is of the highest priority for Vertical Growers Network Ltd., Canada’s newest vertical farming enterprise located in Leduc, Alberta. Consumers expect Trusted Freshness produce to be of high quality and grown and packaged with a focus on the safe handling of delicate and perishable produce.
“Every stage of our vertical farming operation is conducted with an overarching emphasis on the safe handling of our produce,” says Ibrahim Elserafy, VGN’s food safety manager. “As the first step, our staff is trained to follow established personal hygiene processes which include hand washing, and wearing gloves, smocks, hair nets and beard nets, if needed, prior to entering the growing area of our vertical farming operation.”
The first step in growing produce is the placement of seeds in grow cubes.”If during this process anything falls on the floor, we discard these seeds so we can be assured that none of our seeds get contaminated,” says Elserafy.
Once the seeds are in their grow cubes, they are set aside to germinate in water. After germination the grow cubes are transferred to tray beds. “During this transfer process, we again make sure staff follow established food handling guidelines that include proper attire –smocks, hair and beard nets and gloves –as the seedlings are moved to their trays.”
“We are very careful at this stage of the growth cycle to make sure when we transfer the grow cubes to the tray beds no water touches the young leaves of the plants, mitigating any chance of water -borne contamination,” says Elserafy.
Once the grow cubes with their young plants are positioned in their dedicated trays, Trusted Freshness produce continues to grow hydroponically under programmed LED lighting until the produce is ready to be harvested.
“During the harvesting process our staff is again appropriately dressed to prevent any contamination and the various tools we use for harvesting are sanitized prior to use,” says Elserafy. “We discard any wet or brown leaves from any of the plants to avoid possible contamination with the rest of the plant.”
The scissors used for cutting the roots off the main part of the plants are sanitized every two hours to ensure they are free of anything that could contaminate the grown plant.
“Every stage of our vertical farming operation is conducted with an overarching emphasis on the safe handling of our produce,” says Ibrahim Elserafy, VGN’s food safety manager.
Once the produce has been harvested, the leafs and micro-greens are placed in specially designed storage baskets and moved to a cooler where the produce is cooled to 4° C prior to packaging for most Trusted Freshness produce. Basil produce is cooled to 7° C. Cooling the produce to these specific temperatures ensures they retain their freshness and nutritional benefits.
“Prior to packaging we weigh the produce. At this time, we once again examine the individual leafs going into the plastic carton to ensure no pieces of grow cube, roots, brown or wet leaves get into the container,” says Elserafy.
Another two final reviews of the packaged produce take place before the produce leaves the VGN facilities –first by the individual applying the plastic film to the top of the plastic carton and second, by quality control personnel.
“With having multiple sets of eyes review the growing, harvesting and packaging processes of Trusted Freshness produce, we are able to ensure our produce is fresh, nutritious, tasty and very importantly, safe to consume,” concludes Elserafy.