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Produce Safety Bite: Pre-Harvest Practices

September 1, 2021
Farm employees bending over a bed of leafy greens, harvesting greens with knives.

On-farm food safety tips for fruit & vegetable growers 

By Ollie Cultrara, VT Agency of Agriculture, Food & Markets 

Produce safety means protecting fruits and vegetables from becoming contaminated with harmful pathogens. Many fruits and veggies are eaten raw, so we can’t rely on cooking to kill potential germs. These key steps help maintain your product’s integrity on its way to your customers. 

Pre-harvest assessment  

Never harvest produce that is visibly contaminated with animal feces (poop). Before and during harvesting, look for signs like animal droppings, crop damage, or extensive animal tracks. Consider integrating this visual assessment into existing routines, such as scouting for pests or checking crop maturity. Communicate about any areas that should not be harvested. One simple method is flagging to indicate a no-harvest zone. 

Wash your hands 

Everyone must wash their hands before handling produce. The UVM Extension Produce Safety Team can help you set up a convenient portable or permanent handwashing station that includes clean water, soap, and paper towels. 

Empower your crew 

Train workers to spot things that could contaminate produce, like feces or dirty harvest containers, and explain how to address issues that arise. Set expectations for cleaning harvest equipment, scouting for damage and feces, and not harvesting produce that could be contaminated. Reward or acknowledge positive practices like handwashing to reinforce good habits. 

Next steps 

The Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) Produce Safety Rule (PSR) sets a standard for preventing contamination before and during harvesting. Whether or not your farm is subject to the PSR requirements, the Vermont Agency of Agriculture’s Produce Program can help you take the next step in developing a culture of food safety on your farm. Contact the Vermont Produce Program at, (802) 461-5128. For more information, visit our Produce Safety Resources page.