Natural Foods Merchandiser

Produce can be safer but less nutritious

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has issued draft guidance on safe handling of fresh-cut fruits and vegetables. FDA's guidance addresses numerous areas at the processing level, including personnel health and hygiene; training; building and equipment; sanitation operations; and production and processing controls in packaging, storage and transport. The document, which is available at, also recommends that processors encourage everyone in their supply chain to adopt safe practices, including reporting any active case of illness before beginning work. FDA is accepting comments on the guidance through April 30.

"Fresh-cut produce is the fastest-growing sector of the fresh produce industry," said Acting FDA Commissioner Dr. Andrew von Eschenbach. But cutting up fresh produce greatly increases the risk of bacterial contamination, according to an FDA news release, because the natural exterior barriers are destroyed by peeling, slicing, coring, trimming or mashing.

Those fruits and vegetables have also lost much of their nutrition, according to a recent report published by University of Texas biochemist Donald Davis. Davis studied the nutrient value of 43 garden crops and compared it with data for those same crops issued by the Department of Agriculture in 1950. "Considered as a group, we found that six out of 13 nutrients showed apparently reliable declines between 1950 and 1999."

Davis and his colleagues found that on average, protein declined 6 percent while riboflavin values dropped 38 percent. Davis cited changing agricultural practices as the culprit behind the drop-off. "During those 50 years, there have been intensive efforts to breed new varieties that have greater yield, or resistance to pests, or adaptability to different climates. But the dominant effort is for higher yields. Emerging evidence suggests that when you select for yield, crops grow bigger and faster, but they don't necessarily have the ability to make or uptake nutrients at the same, faster rate," he said.

Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXVII/number 4/p. 9

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