Is the food we consume safe from COVID-19? How are farmers making sure it is safe to eat the fruits and vegetables they grow for all of us? Dr. Keith Schneider, food safety expert and a professor at the University of Florida’s Food Science and Human Nutrition Department answers these questions and provides more information about our food system during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Dr. Schneider explains how farm and farmworkers are threatened by the COVID-19 and what is being done.
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report that there is no evidence that food or food packaging facilitates the transmission of COVID-19. However, Dr. Schneider reminds us that it is always important to follow good hygiene practices when handling or preparing foods
One of the biggest production and distribution challenges farmers must deal with is their farm workers getting sick. Many produce farms are small operations run by one or two managers and a minimal crew. Thus, the safety of our food system begins on the farm and it can potentially be compromised if the workforce is out sick and cannot adequately perform the required tasks to grow and harvest crops.
To protect workers and practice proper food safety at the farm level, Dr. Schneider recommends increasing the use of Personal Protection Equipment (PPE), such as masks, goggles, gloves, etc., as well as to emphasize the use of suitable handwashing, sanitation and personal hygiene. Other recommendations include more distance between workers, avoid clustering during breaktime, “quarantining” people that regularly work together, and the use of barriers like plexiglass so there is less transfer of respiratory droplets.
Dr. Schneider also gives strategies on how to improve farm food safety:
- Put as much distance between workers as possible.
- Workers should continue to wash hands as they did before.
- Workers need to self-report illness and not go to work if they are sick.
- Administer temperature checks, although this may be ineffective as the virus can be asymptomatic.
After COVID we see that keeping workers safe the top priority. Going forward, continuing with a high focus on sanitation is the best way to keep the workforce healthy, which will help businesses stay open longer.
If you would like to learn more about CDC recommendations on food safety during COVID-19, visit here.