From Dirty Socks to Spinach: Converting Washing Machines to Safe, Economical Salad Spinners

Salad greens must be efficiently washed, cooled and dried in order to sell to consumers, restaurants and other businesses.This helps prevent the spread of foodborne illnesses and helps the greens look their best for purchase. But most small-and medium-scale farmers can’tafford or have access to industrial, stainless, restaurant-style centrifugal force spinners, which spin the water off the greens through a filter basket or other porous container. And small household salad spinners don’t have the capacity to spin off water without causing production bottlenecks. These farmersdo have access to common, household washing machinesthough, which act in a similar fashionand can be cost-effectively converted to wash spinach and other greens.And many of these farmershave already been relying on converted machinesto fill this post-harvest void.Using washing machines for this purpose is not prohibited by the Food Safety Modernization Act Produce Safety Rule(PSR), which sets mandatory, science-based, minimum standards for the safe growing, harvesting, packingand holding of fruits and vegetables for human consumption. However, there are a few cost-effective improvements and maintenance steps that can improve their efficiency and reduce the potential for the spread of foodborne illness. Andy Chamberlin and Chris Callahan from the University of VermontExtension Agriculture Engineering Program researched, developed and shared best practices for selecting a washing machine for conversion, standard operating procedures for conversion, and guidance for maintaining, cleaning and sanitizing them so they meet PSRstandards [112.123(a) & (c)]. Theyshared these resources with producersthrough VermontExtension blog posts, publicationsand YouTube videos. In addition, they held hands-on spinner conversion workshops,where growers broughttheir own washing machines for step-by-step assistance.To date, 34 growers have expressed interest in improving their homemade greens spinner. Fifteen of those have already done at least one conversion. Growers who have applied the Vermontbest practices sayhow much overall time they’ve saved, the ease of wash-pack cleanup and the cycle-time-improvement that comes from having a machine with a brake installed. They also expressed gratitude for the clear instructions provided for specific models of washing machines. Additionally, produce safety enforcement personnel from around the country have used the newlydeveloped materials to better understand the conversionpractice and how it can help with federal regulation compliance, thereby easing some growers’concerns.Funding was made possible, in part, by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Food Safety Outreach Program, and by U.S. Department of Agriculture’sNortheast Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education.