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On The Farm

Food Safety Begins On the Farm

Growing and selling produce at local farmers’ markets is truly a labor of love. From seed to harvest, you invest time, energy and resources into producing quality fruits and vegetables. And, throughout the growing season, it’s important to make sure you implement a food safety process preventing contamination.

With many different sources of potential contamination present, from soil and irrigation water to, harvesting equipment and transport containers, consider taking these steps to bring the best produce to market.

Learn the proper wash, rinse and sanitize procedure. Throughout food production and handling, properly cleaning food, hands and surfaces is key to preventing contamination. Use these guidelines for sanitizing:

  • Rinse surfaces.
  • Wash with warm, soapy water.
  • Rinse with clean water to completely remove detergent.
  • Sanitize with recommended, proper-strength solutions or water that’s hotter than 170-degrees.

What’s upstream? Identify upstream uses of surface water. Make sure there is no runoff from contaminated water or livestock waste that is coming down to your fields.

Focus on manure management. If you’re using manure, learn all that you can to manage it correctly and safely. The following tips will help you get started:

  • Manure needs to be properly aged, stored and applied. Follow instructions from the distributor, if you’ve purchased the manure. If you’re composting, look to local farmers and hobby farm organizations for information and guidelines.
  • Pathogens can live in manure for 3 months, so it requires a “resting” period.
  • Incorporate the manure into the soil before you do your planting.
  • Manure should be applied to your soil in the fall.
  • Avoid top dressing with manure.
  • DO NOT harvest food until after 120 days from application.
  • Document the rates, dates and location of manure application.

Watch your water. Any time water comes in contact with fresh produce, there’s a potential for contamination. A drip irrigation method is recommended to minimize the risk of contamination. Overhead irrigation should use potable water. If your plants are exposed to any surface water, you should examine the source. Keep records of your irrigation application methods, rates and dates.

Clean your containers. When it’s time to harvest you’ll need to prepare your storage containers by using a high pressure water system to wash, rinse and sanitize them. After sanitizing the bins, cover them immediately until ready for use. Don’t allow people to stand in the bins during the harvest and remove any field soil from the outside of the bins before moving them to your packing area.

Storage facility sanitation. Wash, rinse and sanitize your storage facility before you load food. Ensure any refrigeration equipment is working properly — consider leaving a refrigerator thermometer inside, to easily check the temperature. Your refrigerator temperature should be at or below 40-degrees. Check the temperature weekly and add this information to your records.

How Food Handlers Can Ensure Farm Food Safety

You put a lot of effort into growing produce, but now it’s time to take your dedication to quality a step further. Make sure everyone in your operation puts a priority on farm food safety by following these safety guidelines.

Wash your hands. Much like washing produce, storage containers and surfaces, washing your hands is a very important step in protecting foods and the people who will eventually enjoy them. The Mayo Clinic recommends the following handwashing method:

  • Wet your hands with running water.
  • Apply soap to your cupped hand.
  • Lather well.
  • Rub hands, palm to palm, vigorously for at least 20 seconds. Then scrub backs of hands, wrists, between fingers and under fingernails.
  • Rinse well.
  • Dry hands using a clean towel.
  • Use the towel to turn off the faucet.

If you have employees, post these instructions next to all hand washing areas so there is no question about what is expected.

Make hygiene a priority. It’s important that everyone be aware of and follow good hygiene practices. Some key elements to include are:

  • Wash hands often when handling raw foods after coughing and sneezing, after touching garbage, after handling other types of foods, and always after visiting a bathroom.
  • Use plastic gloves if anyone has a cut on their hands.
  • Utensils should be used as much as possible to handle produce.
  • Protect food from dust, sneezing and more by covering it when possible.
  • Someone with an infectious disease should never have direct contact with produce.
  • Identify times in your operation when gloves or other protective gear is needed.

Avoid cross contamination. Bacteria can easily be spread by cross contamination. Educating everyone in your operation and using the following tips is a great start:

  • Keep cooked and raw foods separated.
  • Thaw raw meats and poultry in refrigerator so juices don’t drip onto other foods.
  • Practice proper wash, rinse and sanitize methods.
  • Use containers designed specifically for food storage.
  • Use dedicated utensils to handle and serve food — don’t use the same spoon for everything.
  • Don’t reuse disposable items such as plastic bags, spoons etc.

Post-harvest handling. Your produce typically has the most human contact between picking and market. During this period, the following hygiene tips help you protect your food and the consumer.

  • Everyone should wash their hands before and after handling food.
  • Clean and sanitize work surfaces daily, more frequently if needed.
  • Clean all food storage containers and store them until you’re ready to use them.
  • Discard damaged containers.
  • Don’t wear field clothing in sanitized areas.
  • Store chemicals away from foods.
  • Take steps to protect harvested food from insects, rodents, birds and animals. This includes your pets.

Take a food safety course. Check your local campuses and agricultural groups to see what courses are offered in your area. Not only is this a great idea for you but it can also benefit your employees.

Pick-Your-Own Food Safety Precautions

If you operate a pick-your-own farm, help your guests make the most of their visit by following these sanitary tips. Start with the following tips to encourage your guests to make the most of their visit to your farm.

Well-maintained bathroom facilities. Having clean facilities can go a long way toward keeping everything sanitary. Make sure the hand washing stations include large signs showing proper hand-washing techniques.

Additional washing stations. Encourage all guests to wash their hands before entering the field.

No pets allowed. Discourage people from bringing their pets to the farm as they can bring in cross contaminates and you don’t want them adding waste to the fields.

Handouts at checkout. Education can be the key to preventing cross contamination. Include a handout with the receipt so your customers know how best to prevent cross contamination at home, how to clean the produce, and how to store their foods properly.

Your efforts to bring the safest and most delicious produce to market won’t go unnoticed by your customers. They’ll appreciate the quality foods and the steps you’ve taken to keep them safe. In a business where word-of-mouth is vital, your well-earned recognition can help you thrive.

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Related Topics: Farm Safety