Currently, we are all faced with a dramatic change to our daily routine as the Novel Coronavirus, COVID-19, continues to infect many people around the world as well as here at home. As we learn more about the virus it is easy to feel overwhelmed by the amount of information and unsure of what resources to trust. The nature of this pandemic, a new virus, one that has never been experience by mankind, forces us to rethink not just how we interact with each other but if we should. We have all experienced a shift in how we work, gather, and play. Social distancing can go beyond affecting our social lives, the need for people to stay home, stay safe greatly affects our local restaurants, markets, shops, and stores. Through all the behavior shifts necessary to combat the spread of COVID-19, some of these are familiar to us.
Many of the recommendations are familiar to our local farmers and farmers’ market staff. The food industry is not unfamiliar with foodborne illness outbreaks and has long dealt with the consequences those foodborne illness outbreaks have on the industry. Food Safety practices are essential to providing fresh, safe produce to every household, and these food safety best practices should be continued on your farm, and at your home during this COVID-19 pandemic.
For those of you unfamiliar with the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) Produce Safety Rule, this piece of legislation was signed into law in January of 2011. This historic piece of legislation, FSMA, takes a proactive approach to food safety and encompasses the entire food system. The Produce Safety Rule is the first mandatory federal standard for the growing, packing, harvesting, and holding of fresh produce. This legislation outlines best practices farms must and should follow to reduce and/or eliminate microbial contamination on fresh produce. In our area, many of the local farmers have gone through technical assistance offered here at the District assessing their farm’s risks and tailoring these food safety practices to their farm. These practices don’t just reduce the risk of transferring pathogens to food, some of these practices can be used at home to reduce the risk of transmitting COVID-19.
Two best practices that transfer well from farm to home are handwashing and cleaning and sanitizing surfaces. Proper handwashing should be done frequently, and anytime you think your hands have been contaminated. On the farm this could mean after eating, smoking, using the bathroom, returning to work, or after handling animals. The proper way to wash hands follows these steps:
Apply soap to hands and later
o Be sure to wash the front and back of the hands as well as between the fingers, your thumbs, and areas around your nails
o Rub hands together for AT LEAST 20 seconds (time equivalent equals the time it takes to sign the chorus of Raspberry Beret)
Rinse hands thoroughly with clean (generic E. coli free) water
o Turn off faucet with used paper towel if possible
At home, follow the same procedure and wash hands frequently, especially after being in a public place, coughing, sneezing, or blowing your nose. If you can’t wash your hands, use a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol. When using hand sanitizer, cover your whole hands (like with handwashing) and rub your hands together until they feel dry.
Cleaning and sanitizing food contact surfaces is essential on farms. Food contact surfaces are more than just the tables, plates, and cutting boards that come to mind when we hear that phrase. Food contact surfaces on the farm covers so many items and areas including harvest bins, packing containers, packing tables, and even the hands of farmers and farm workers. Ensuring these food contact surfaces are clean is essential to prevent the contamination of fresh produce. Fresh produce growers familiar with the Produce Safety Alliance Grower Training Class will know, cleaning and sanitizing is a 4-step process. They are also very familiar with the phrase “You CANNOT Sanitize a Dirty Surface”. It’s so important that it is stated twice in the training. Here is the 4-step process given to growers:
· Remove any obvious dirt and debris
· Apply an appropriate detergent and scrub the surface
· Rinse the surface with clean water, make sure you remove all the detergent and debris
· Apply a sanitizer
· Air Dry
Clean water means water free of generic E. Coli, water you would drink. When applying a sanitizer, make sure you follow the EPA label on how to correctly use the sanitizer. If you are using sanitizer on your farm, make sure it is labeled, “for use on food contact surfaces”.
In the home environment, the CDC recommends you clean AND disinfect frequently touched surfaces daily. That includes, light switches, tables, doorknobs, desks, phones, toilets, sinks, and keyboards. If the surfaces are dirty- clean them (You CAN NOT Sanitize a Dirty Surface). Use detergent or soap and water prior to disinfecting a surface. These are two practices that transfer well from farm to home to prevent the transfer of foodborne pathogens and the Novel Coronavirus. When shopping for produce at your local markets, groceries stores, or specialty shops here are a few tips:
· Sanitize hands frequently, before and after shopping
· Touch only what you buy
· Wash your hands when you return home
· Rinse your produce with clean water when ready to use
Some other tips include- Do Not wash your produce with soap, vinegar or lemon juice and Do Not leave your produce outside for 3 days, as this is a potential food safety issue and has not been proven to reduce the transmission of COVID-19. For more information we have listed some sites below and will be updating our blog and Social Media when new, grower information arises. If you have any questions, or would like further information, please reach out to our Produce Safety Technician, Micah Hutchison at email@example.com.
For up-to-date on COVID-19 and what you can do to prevent the spread of COVID-19 visit the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) website: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prevent-getting-sick/prevention.html.
For up-to-date info on COVID-19 and food safety visit the Food and Drug Administration (FDA): https://www.fda.gov/emergency-preparedness-and-response/counterterrorism-and-emerging-threats/coronavirus-disease-2019-covid-19
Although COVID-19 is a respiratory disease and there is currently no evidence it is spread through produce, the Produce Safety Alliance is an excellent resource for more information on sanitizers. For more information on sanitizers check out this Factsheet: https://producesafetyalliance.cornell.edu/sites/producesafetyalliance.cornell.edu/files/shared/documents/Sanitizer-Factsheet.pdf
For COVID-19 resources for Farmers’ Markets visit MIFMA’s website: http://mifma.org/covid-19-resources/
For a comprehensive guide on Food Safety and Coronavirus- here is a publication from Serious Eats: https://www.seriouseats.com/2020/03/food-safety-and-coronavirus-a-comprehensive-guide.html?fbclid=IwAR2DYvvhu7mdjGXsIWyl_a_uhZ51sv6syjjEWCQUYCqenpEDa9NPdjEwuCU