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What are the food safety risks involved when repacking bulk frozen produce into retail bags?
Question: We are repacking bulk frozen fruits and vegetables into retail bags. We are emptying 30 lb. cases of frozen fruits and vegetables, running them through an automated repacking line, and then bagging them into 1-5 lb. retail bags. The bulk product is stored at 0°F and then brought into the repacking room, which is kept at 34°F. How much time do we have to get the product repacked into the retail bags, packed into corrugated boxes, and then placed back into 0°F storage before we need to be concerned with microbial growth or any other food safety risk factors?
Answer: As long you are following good manufacturing practices (GMPs) and good sanitation practices, there is no food safety hazard. If you are following GMP, the primary risk to quality is “temperature abuse.” If the repackaging process takes too long and the product has warmed up to a significant extent, in particular if it has reached around 23°F or above, then refreezing will be slow and the quality will be markedly affected. There may also be a risk of clumping in the retail bag. The target should be to have the product maintain temperatures below about 10°F at all times.
Answer provided by Dr. Michael Jahncke, Virginia Polytechnic University & WFLO Scientific Advisory Council (SAC) Chairman, and Dr. David Reid, University of California-Davis & WFLO SAC Member.
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