Keeping Farm Produce Safe


Keeping Farm Produce Safe

Marshalee Valentine

Thursday, April 23, 2020

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The implemented COVID-19 restrictions have resulted in the closure of hotels and restaurants, forcing farmers to find alternative markets for produce. With more of this produce going directly from farm to home, it is important that growers maintain good sanitation and personal hygiene practices, along with following the Ministry of Health guidelines for social distancing and staying home when sick, to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

More farmers are offering delivery services along with a weekly farmers' market in some instances. My recent experience at a farmers' market, however, was very disappointing as the social distancing rule was not adhered to and there were no limits to the amount of individuals in one space. Of course, I ended up seeking an alternative. As the agriculture sector is essential to keeping the population fed, we will look at some things growers should do to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

1. Do not allow workers/customers to come to the farm/farmers' market or handle produce if showing signs of illness. Farm workers/employees must stay at home if they feel sick or be sent home if they develop symptoms at work. Signs can be posted asking employees and customers to comply to this rule. You can also implement systems such as having pre-packaged items to prevent customers from touching produce. If you offer a delivery service, ensure that your delivery personnel are not ill.

2. Practise social distancing. While it may seem counter-productive, at this time you will want to limit the number of workers on the farm, or even create a shift system. You must also limit or prohibit the number of customers on the farm or at your farmers markets. Avoid shaking hands and other types of physical contact and encourage employees to do the same. This reduces the risk of your produce coming into contact with someone who is ill before it heads to market.

3. Wash your hands. This requirement cannot be overstated. You will need to make additional provisions for washing hands, such as installation of wash-hand and sanitiser stations and placing wash-hand instructions in strategic locations. Hands must be washed when arriving at work, when changing tasks (eg, moving from office work to wash/pack), before and after eating, after using the bathroom, before putting on gloves when working with produce, and after contact with animals.

4. Cleaning, sanitising, and drying of food-handling surfaces. While the FDA has indicated that there is no indication that this virus can be spread via food, the produce may come in contact with harvesting crates, equipment, counters and tables. These areas must be constantly cleaned and sanitised and allowed to air dry before allowing produce to come in contact with them. If you have any reason to believe your produce has been contaminated you must cease operations and sanitise rooms, utensils, equipment and food contact surfaces before the release of any produce.

5. Ensure you have contingency plans in place for operations in the event that you or your employees become severely ill.

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