Both government and consumers keep a very strict eye on food safety. If there’s even a hint of contamination, the borders get closed. It’s something that cow, pig and chicken farmers have experienced in first hand and suffered the consequences. The only way to prevent this from happening is chain management. Therefore, the food industry is obliged to always keep track of the prior step in the chain. For mushrooms, the origin of products – from compost through to fresh mushroom – is known to all in the chain.

Dutch mushroom growers have two codes to follow: the behavioral code and the hygiene code. Both are aimed at making growers and their personnel aware of the possible risks. The codes also help in keeping the growing and harvesting processes up to date and safe.

The behavioral code took effect in 1995. Before then, there were occasional reports of ‘lock ins’ among the mushrooms – of things that don’t belong there. One report from England described a condom being found among the mushrooms. It turned out to be the finger of a latex glove, worn by one of the pickers. A severed latex finger looks just like a condom. Measures were taken to prevent these kinds of mistakes. Pickers now wear blue gloves that can be easily spotted among the white mushrooms. When they take a break, pickers have to place their gloves away from the mushrooms (not on the edge of the harvesting machine, for instance). When they need new gloves they have to hand in their old ones first.

Blue gloves are used to harvest mushrooms. This is how we avoid to lose pieces of the latex gloves.

All vegetable and fruit processing companies have copied the hygiene code. But it all started in the mushroom industry. An example: everyone who handles the mushrooms has to wash their hands with lukewarm water and disinfectant soap. It is obligatory to wear a hairnet too.

Another food safety risk in the mushroom industry, and other agricultural companies, is the risk of small amounts of protective materials being left behind in the mushrooms. Thankfully mushroom growers hardly ever use these materials, so the risk is minimal. Furthermore, all growers using these materials are obliged to register them and have periodical measurements taken.

Dutch mushrooms regularly end up in laboratories. They’re checked to see if the levels of certain substances they may contain are not exceeded. Before mushrooms are preserved, the air in them is replaced with water. This happens in a vacuum space. The water usually contains a low level of sulphate, preventing the mushrooms from browning so they keep their tasty look. If the level of sulphate per kilo mushrooms stay below 10 mg, it doesn’t need to be listed as an ingredient. To ensure the levels stay low, mushrooms get checked in a lab, then certified.

Hygiene & safety first!

In our factories, HACCP is just one of the norms which are used to keep the quality as high as possible.

All factories dealing with the preservation and processing of mushrooms adhere to strict quality norms, such as HACCP (Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points). These norms are founded in space technology. Pillsbury, a large American food producer making part baked bread rolls, developed for for astronauts. They had to be absolutely certain the food wouldn’t make anyone ill; the consequences of an astronaut in space becoming ill, vomiting or having diarrhea would be awful.

HACCP rules are extreme: for every possible risk, a solutions has been found out. In all Dutch mushroom processing factories, there is a metal detector at the end of the conveyor belt: if the tip of a knife breaks off, it will get removed before the product is packaged. Since 1994, the food industry is obliged to comply to the HACCP rules. In restaurants, for instance, they have to work with washable plastic cutting boards; and every type of product has its own color board. This way, the salmonella infection on a chicken breast cannot be spread to a piece of salmon, to name but one example.

According to HACCP quality norms, companies are obliged to do a risk analysis of their production process and take protective measures accordingly. This way, for example, the glass from an exploded light bulb cannot end up in the mushroom trays. The quality of Dutch mushrooms is guaranteed because of these quality norms. The seamless cooperation between CNC, growers and processors means governments and consumers, in the Netherlands and abroad, can be sure they are dealing with healthy, safe and natural products.

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