On-farm food safety tips for fruit & vegetable growers
By Ollie Cultrara, VT Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets
Produce safety is about protecting our fruits and vegetables from becoming contaminated with pathogens that can cause serious illness. These practices can help you prevent feces (poop) from wildlife or farm animals from contaminating produce.
Separate animals from produce
Wildlife can damage crops and transfer pathogens to produce. Deter wildlife with technologies like fencing, traps, or sound or light devices. Don’t allow livestock or pets in areas where produce is grown, washed, packed, or stored.
Cross-contamination is the transfer of pathogens to produce from another source, such as manure. To prevent cross-contamination, change your shoes and outer clothing and wash your hands after working with animals and before handling produce.
You likely monitor your packing and storage areas for rodents, but do you check for potential sources of contamination, like bird droppings, from above? Prevent birds from roosting in farm structures that house produce or food contact surfaces. Store harvest containers and packaging under cover.
Know when not to harvest
Train your crew to scout for animal damage and feces during the growing season, and check again before harvesting. Tools like surveyor flags can be used to indicate no-harvest zones around areas of animal intrusion. Empower everyone on the farm to identify and prevent harvesting of produce that is visibly damaged or contaminated with feces.
The Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) Produce Safety Rule (PSR) includes specific requirements for preventing contamination from animals. Whether or not your farm is subject to the PSR, the Vermont Produce Program can help you take the next step in building food safety culture on your farm. Get in touch with our team at AGR.FSMA@vermont.gov, (802) 461-5128, or agriculture.vermont.gov/produceprogram.