Development of Cost and Labor Effective Produce Sanitation Methods for Small Farms

April 19, 2018

With programs like Good Agricultural Practices (GAP), Good Handling Practices (GHP), and the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), producers have a more proactive role in minimizing food safety hazards potentially associated with fresh produce. Cucumber producer Carloyn Orr says increasingly, local grocery stores are requiring wash and sanitizing of produce, regardless of farm size. 

Orr and Mark Straw operate a diversified family farm in Indiana called Strawridge Farm. They recently converted a 10,000 square foot greenhouse into a hydroponic vegetable operation, growing early tomatoes for farmers markets and English (seedless) cucumbers for restaurants through a state-wide distributor.

In 2014, Orr received a $7,300 NCR-SARE Farmer Rancher grant to evaluate multiple cost and labor effective methods for washing and sanitizing produce that needs gentle handling, like English cucumbers and tomatoes. They developed two different methods for washing and sanitizing that save time, energy, water, and chemical sanitizer. One is a lower tech spray and sanitize system, and the other is a higher tech version that uses a modified commercial cafeteria dishwasher. 

To evaluate their effectiveness, Dr. Amanda Deering of Purdue and her graduate student, YooJung Heo, provided bacteriological sampling and analysis. 

“The modified dishwasher we designed to wash our produce drastically reduced the time required to wash our produce, which reduced our labor requirements,” said Orr. “It also improved the food safety of our produce, and may do even better with the use of new sanitizers. In the long term, the safety of our produce may be the most important issue for the sustainability of all growers.”

For more information on Orr’s  NCR-SARE Farmer Rancher grant project, visit the SARE project reporting website or contact the NCR-SARE office.

View Carolyn Orr's presentation on this project, from the 2017 Farmer's Forum, through NCR-SARE's Youtube playlist. Visit for this and other videos. 

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Topics: Crop Production, Cucurbits, Food Product Quality/Safety, Hydroponics, Tomatoes
Related Locations: North Central