It is very common to find fruit cut in half in supermarkets and greengrocers. They are usually bulky fruits, such as melon, watermelon or pineapple. These fruit formats are perfect for families with few members or for people living alone. In this way, the fruit, if it is very large, will not spoil.

The handling and preservation of cut fruit is very sensitive. At Peris we know it well, because we are specialists in fresh-cut fruits, which is the name given to cut or minimally processed fruit/vegetables in the food industry.

In our case, we work with fresh-cut fruit and vegetables in temperature-controlled facilities at all stages. The optimal conditions for working with fruit are set by a European regulation(EC Regulation No. 852/2004 of the European Parliament and of the Council of April 29, 2004), which speaks of the importance of hygiene and temperature in the handling of fruit. It tells us, for example, that food cannot be safely stored at room temperature and that it is necessary to maintain the cold chain.

But the truth is that the European regulations fall somewhat short, because they do not establish the specific handling and storage conditions for cut fruit and vegetables, for example with regard to temperature.

Yes, there is an information gap that Spain is trying to fill.

And this is where AESAN, the Spanish Agency for Food Safety and Nutrition, comes into play. This organization is currently working on the preparation of a draft Royal Decree. It will regulate certain requirements concerning the hygiene of the production and marketing of foodstuffs in retail stores, i.e. supermarkets and greengrocers.

One of the objectives of this Royal Decree is to regulate the conditions of conservation of vegetables and cut fruits in those establishments that sell to the final consumer. And to have all the data clear, they have put to investigate its scientific committee.

How long can cut fruit be kept unrefrigerated in the supermarket and at home?

temperature control cold chain mango

The scientific committee of AESAN, after a rigorous study, has reached the conclusion that melon, watermelon, papaya and pineapple cut in halves or quarters can remain at a temperature below 25ºC for less than 3 hours. However, the fruit must then be stored in a refrigerated area below 5ºC, as established by the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) for foods of vegetable origin.

Therefore, it is expected that as soon as the regulation comes out, we will no longer see half melons, watermelons or pineapples in retail outlets at room temperature. These must be kept in refrigerated chambers to maintain the cold chain and preserve food safety for consumers.

Many supermarkets have already implemented this before it is required by regulation, and it is certainly the best option. But others still do not, mostly for logistical reasons, since keeping such large pieces of fruit refrigerated requires, for example, the provision of coolers that need space that is normally already occupied by other products.

Another reflection we would like to make is that the effort to keep the food constantly refrigerated is of the whole chain involved, not only those who process and those who sell to the final customer.

This chain starts with operators such as us at Peris, where we process the fruit. It continues with refrigerated transport to the point of sale. It is followed up by the personnel who unload the trucks and also by the supermarket stockers, who must ensure that this work is done in optimum time. Of course, the point of sale must have chambers to keep the product refrigerated until it is sold. The last link would be the consumer himself, who must also be cautious and maintain the cold chain until the food reaches his refrigerator.

Practices to avoid in the handling of fruit to prevent food poisoning.

The AESAN scientific committee report establishes different practices that can lead to foodborne outbreaks (Bowen et al., 2006) (Hanning et al., 2009). A food poisoning is caused by the ingestion of food containing pathogenic germs or their toxins, and these may be some of the triggers:

  • Cut fruit that is contaminated on the outside, i.e. on the rind.
  • Using contaminated equipment or utensils.
  • Poor handling conditions.
  • Presence of wounds on the rind of the fruit.
  • Cross-contamination due to mixing with other fruits.

For all these reasons, it is essential to sanitize the fruit, but also the work surfaces and utensils to be used when cutting it. Of course, its correct storage, without contact with other fruits, is also relevant.

And we know a lot about all this at Peris, because our strict quality controls work with these guidelines.

Technicians packaging fresh-cut pineapple Peris Frutifresh

In this article we have talked about fruit, because it is our sector and because the regulation on fruit temperature will be published soon. However, it should be borne in mind that any food can give rise to food poisoning if it is handled improperly by the operators or by the consumer.

Tips to avoid food poisoning at home

We must be very attentive to the conditions of the foods we buy (for example, if they need refrigeration and are at room temperature) and to what we consume outside the home (for example, in a bar, all foods on display must be in refrigerators or display cabinets at the corresponding temperature).

But you also have to be careful at home, because intoxication can happen where you least expect it, so here are…

8 tips to avoid food poisoning in your home:

  1. Raw and cooked foods are out of sight. Avoid contact between raw and cooked foods. For example, if you cut a raw food, wash the knife before cutting a cooked food.
  2. Defrost food in the refrigerator, all it takes is a little foresight. Defrosting food in the microwave is also safe, in case foresight fails.
  3. If a food starts to show a bad appearance and its odor is different from usual, it is better to throw it away than to regret it.
  4. In order for the microorganisms in a raw food to die, you will have to cook it above 70ºC.
  5. If you are a sushi fan, remember to freeze the fish before consumption. The usual recommendation is that it should remain in the freezer for at least 3 days.
  6. Leftovers are welcome (much better than throwing food away), but heat them very well before eating them again to kill any trace of harmful microorganisms.
  7. When you go shopping, leave fresh and frozen foods for last. It is advisable to use isothermal bags to respect the cold chain.
  8. If you need to dry food or kitchen utensils, do it with kitchen paper instead of rags, as these accumulate microorganisms.