Fruit and vegetable growers must remain diligent about protecting their crops from both internal and external contamination threats. By now, you are probably well aware of the many GAP solutions applicable to internal threats. They include frequent handwashing and strict personal hygiene requirements for field workers and produce handlers. Addressing external contamination threats is also known as farm biosecurity, and it consists of several steps to protect both employees and produce.
According to the National Good Agricultural Practices Program, based at Cornell University, the best practice for facilities is to restrict access to only essential farm personnel. Restrictions apply to fields, equipment or chemical storage sheds, and packing buildings. Buildings should remain locked when not in use, and the keys should only be accessible to designated personnel. It is more of a challenge to restrict access to fields, but fences or “restricted area” signs can be used as deterrents. In addition, surveillance cameras can be used to monitor large areas of the farm. The purpose of these measures is to prevent trespassing and tampering.
It’s suggested that you have a documented plan in place for any farm visitors, who could accidentally or intentionally cause biohazard concerns. Designate a check-in location for all visitors, and post signs directing them there. While on-location, visitors should be accompanied by farm personnel or wear some kind of identification badge. Make sure they are aware of and respect restricted areas. If they do need to enter a field or packing area for any reason, ensure they wash their hands in a restroom facility or with a portable sink first. Double-check to ensure their clothing and shoes are clean as well, and don’t hesitate to ask them to wear protective outerwear or change if you are concerned by their level of cleanliness. Keeping crops safe is your top priority.
Think About Sanitation at All Times
Preventing contamination, as well as plant diseases, requires awareness and dedication to the best sanitary practices. According to the Maine Natural Resources Conservation Service, both workers and visitors should avoid walking or driving through fields where crops are growing whenever possible, especially after visiting another crop field. Park at entrances to fields or along field roads. Vehicles, shoes, and equipment can transfer manure or other contaminants from an outside source to your crops if you are not careful. Because of this, it’s important to keep them away from crops or thoroughly clean them with soap and water first and then follow with a disinfectant.
Train Well & Hire Smart
All employees should be regularly trained and refreshed on good personal hygiene and sanitation. They should be able to not only follow sanitary practices but also recognize and know to report any potentially hazardous behaviors they observe. Also, suspicious people, vehicles, or packages on the premises should not go unnoticed. Every employee should be told to keep their eyes open for threats. When hiring new employees, perform a thorough background check. You want to ensure they don’t have a history of risky behavior or pose a threat to the safety of your operation.
Learn More About GAP Compliance
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