By: Kali Feiereisel, MPH
Senior Manager, Farmer Services
Last updated: April 7th, 2020
We realize this is a time of great uncertainty and anxiety. Hopefully this blog post can provide some tangible information to help answer some of your questions on COVID-19 at the farm level. First, we want to highlight some already existing resources. The Centers for Disease Control provided this webinar on a general overview of the virus. Farmers may find some guidance on the World Health Organization’s resource on, “Getting Your Workplace Ready for COVID-19” helpful to employ at your farm. The United States Department of Labor has a webpage geared towards workplaces and what businesses can do. The Food and Drug Administration has a food industry focused FAQs page here. New 3/19: the California Department of Food and Agriculture created this COVID-19 website geared towards farmers.
Right now there’s very little information specifically directed at farmers on what you can do to minimize COVID-19 risks. The University of Vermont Extension has this blog post where they discuss six practices growers should do. These practices include: 1) stay away from produce if you are sick, 2) practice social distancing, 3) wash your hands, 4) cleaning, sanitizing, and drying equipment, 5) plan for change and 6) minimize touches. The California Department of Public Health and Governor have stated that at this time there is no evidence for COVID-19 transmission on food or food packaging. The Environmental Protection Agency has a database where you can search for disinfectant products that are effective against COVID-19. If farmers reuse packaging (such as wax boxes), you should consider temporarily switching to only using all new packaging and/or placing a new plastic box liner into boxes you pack with produce. Wax box liners can be found here (scroll down to the contact us), here (call or email about box size and price), or contact your current wax box/packaging supplier to see if they sell liners.
Below are some frequently asked questions farmers have inquired about in the last few days. We will continue to update this blog post and these FAQs as new information is released.
Should farm employees being wearing masks?
- New CDC Guidance last week recommends all people that are able to wear cloth masks in public, especially in areas of high community transmission.
- CA Dept. of Public Health says to check at the county level on whether cloth masks are required in public places.
- Even when wearing cloth masks employees MUST make sure to frequently wash their hands, avoid touching face, practice physical distancing, and stay home when not at work.
- Cloth masks should be washed daily in hot water, with detergent, and dried.
Does COVID-19 spread on food surfaces or packaging?
A: You can read the California Department of Public Health’s post in full. In short, they state that CDPH, “is not aware of any reports at this time of human illnesses that suggest COVID-19 can be transmitted by food or food packaging.”
If there’s no evidence that COVID-19 can be transferred on food or food packaging why should I only use new boxes or box liners when I package by crops?
A: We are in the midst of an evolving situation and it is possible that we will learn that the virus can be transmitted on the surfaces of food (especially crops that are not cooked) and/or packaging. If only packaging into new boxes and/or using new box liners when packaging food is feasible for your farm then it would be a step to consider.
Are there any food safety resources specifically towards urban farms in the Bay area?
Yes! Please see UC Extension Professional Jennifer Sowerwine’s presentation addressed towards urban farmers. The presentation can be helpful for non-urban farmers too.
I am already using a sanitizer product in my postharvest area (either on surfaces or in the wash water). How do I find out if that product has been approved to be effective against COVID-19?
A: See if that product is listed on the EPA’s database of disinfectant products.
The sanitizer I am using in my wash water or food contact surfaces is not listed on the EPA’s list of disinfectants approved for COVID-19. Does that mean that the product I’m using is not effective against COVID-19?
A: Not necessarily. Oftentimes companies that make sanitizer products geared towards agriculture do not go through the extra testing, fees, etc. that are required to approve their product to be effective against X pathogen (e.g. COVID-19).
I want to keep using a sanitizer product in my postharvest wash water and/or on food contact surfaces, but the product I am using is not on the EPA’s approved disinfectant list. Should I keep using it?
A: If you correctly use the sanitizer product according to the product label then it would be better for food safety if you kept using it than discontinuing its use.
I am not currently using a sanitizer product in my postharvest wash water but want to start using one. Where do I find a product that is labeled for use in produce wash water?
A: You can find a sanitizer that’s approved for use in produce wash water by going to the Produce Safety Alliance resources webpage. Scroll down and you can download this factsheet on choosing an EPA-labeled sanitizer. Next, download the excel tool (Labeled Sanitizers for Produce – Excel Tool) to search for a sanitizer that’s labeled for use in produce wash water and any other conditions you want (organically approved, size container it’s sold in, etc). You can watch their video on how to use the excel sanitizer tool if you’d like. You can use that excel tool to find a sanitizer product that suits your situation (e.g. organically approved, size container it’s sold in).
Should I require all workers in the postharvest area to wear disposable gloves?
A: Wearing gloves never replaces handwashing. You must make sure that all employees are washing their hands with potable water, liquid soap, and drying them off with single use paper towels (or equivalent single use drying option). You can require that workers wear disposable gloves after completing successful handwashing, just make sure that everyone still maintains correct handwashing practices if gloves are used.
I know using hand sanitizer does not replace hand washing, however I want to have had sanitizer available for employees. I cannot find any to buy. Are there any reputable resources on making your own hand sanitizer?
Are there any templates or guides on policies farmers should implement during this time?
Yes! You can look at UC Extension expert Jennifer Sowerwine’s guidelines for employees at small farms and urban gardens. Also, this resource on guidelines to preventing the spread of infection on the farm may be helpful.
Is there somewhere I can apply for business funding to help offset lost revenue?
A: Some counties in California are part of the U.S. Small Business Administration Disaster Assistance Program. You can learn more here.
Who is the United States government defining as essential workers?
A: There are 16 different job sectors that are considered essential. You can read specific examples of jobs within each sector that are deemed essential on the U.S. Department of Homeland Security website page here. Under the Food and Agriculture Section there are these explanations:
-Farm workers to include those employed in animal food, feed, and ingredient production, packaging, and distribution; manufacturing, packaging, and distribution of veterinary drugs; truck delivery and transport; farm and fishery labor needed to produce our food supply domestically
-Farm workers and support service workers to include those who field crops; commodity inspection; fuel ethanol facilities; storage facilities; and other agricultural inputs
I run a food business that should be classified as essential but local and/or state officials are trying to make we shut down. What can I do?
The Food and Drug Association recommends contacting FEMA’s National Emergency Response Center.
Are there any handouts or resources I can share with my customers to encourage them to implement safe handling practices of food once they buy it from us?
Yes, you can check out this 1/2 page handout you can cut out to give to people in person (or include in packed CSA boxes) and/or share with your customers electronically.
I have legal questions about what I should be doing on my farm in regards to employee health and/or changing up my marketing channels to include different ways of selling my product. Are there any resources for that?
Yes! The great folks at Farm Commons have created a series of five podcast episodes on those topics and more that you can find here.
Don’t see your question answered here? Check out the FDA’s Food Safety and Corona Virus FAQs webpage that’s updated daily.
Still have questions?
If you’re farming in Northern California contact: Kali at firstname.lastname@example.org
If you’re farming in Southern California contact: Stepheni at email@example.com