Harvest Crew of One

On large, commercial vegetable farms the harvest crew has the responsibly to pick, pack and bring in the product from the field. Employees are trained in food safety so they understand handwashing and sanitary handling. Harvesting is the only activity they do. The crew does not weed, trellis, cull or prune while harvesting. Harvesting is its own activity.

On Iowa’s smaller produce farms, the harvest crew may be a handful of people – or only one or two people on the really small farms. But the concept of the “harvest crew” should still apply. Harvesting is its own activity.

For best food safety management, the harvesting activities need to be the primary focus of the field worker during that time. Hands and equipment are washed, and product is collected and moved to the packing area or cold storage quickly. Distractions should be avoided.

Conduct a pre-harvest walk-through (assessment) to look for wildlife damage and create a plan for harvest. The assessment can also help you identify other items to add to the to-do list after harvesting – fixing the fence, weeding the cucumbers, staking the tomatoes. Leave your phone in the packing area to help you focus on the task at hand (and motivate you to finish quickly). Once the harvest is complete and the food is transferred to the holding facility, your attention can shift to the other tasks for the day.

Using Produce from Flooded Gardens

Rain continues to fall in excessive amounts across the state.  After some severe flooding in northeast Iowa, I have been receiving questions about flooded gardens and vegetable fields.

 

If you are selling product to customers, you have a responsibility to minimize its risk to others.  Never sell produce from a flood-damaged garden at a farm market or farm stand until you are sure that all contamination has been removed from the garden, usually a period of at least one month after the last incidence of flooding.

 

Another way to think about this, is to assume that the floodwater contained manure and refer to the GAPs related to using untreated manure:

  • Incorporate untreated manure into soil prior to planting (to induce microbial competition).
  • Do not apply untreated manure or leachate from manure to produce fields during the growing season prior to harvest.
  • Maximize the time between application of manure and harvest of produce (at least 120 days).
  • Do not use untreated manure where the above GAPs are not possible, such as for fresh produce harvested throughout most of the year.

 

If a production field is identified as unsalable, you may still have some options for harvest out of that field for personal use. Here are some publications to review.  The text from the WI publication is also posted below.

Garden Produce in Floods,  ISU Extension

Safely Using Produce from Flooded Gardens, U of Wisconsin Extension

 

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After flooding occurs, gardeners often raise questions about the safety of consuming produce from gardens that were under water for a day or two.  How concerned gardeners have to be about using garden produce after a flood depends, to a large degree, on how “clean” the flood water was or whether it was likely to have been contaminated with sewage, river or creek water, farm run-off, or industrial pollutants.  The most conservative answer — one that eliminates any and all risks — is that gardeners should discard all produce that was touched by flood water.  However, if flooding occurs early, there will typically be weeks left in the growing season, and gardeners will likely wish to salvage some crops.  The following are tips for considering what can be salvaged and what must be discarded from a flooded garden.

 

Produce can be cooked to ensure safety.  This is the best choice if anything that was touched by flood water will be served to those most at risk for serious consequences from microbial food-borne illnesses: young children, the elderly, pregnant women and those with compromised immune systems.  Note that cooking will not eliminate the risk posed by industrial pollutants.

 

Discard all produce that is normally consumed uncooked (raw), including all leafy vegetables such as lettuce or spinach, regardless of how mature the plants are.  It is not possible to clean these crops as they have many ridges and crevices that could contain contaminated silt or bacteria.  All soft fruits that are ready to harvest, such as strawberries or raspberries, should also be discarded unless they can be cooked; they too are impossible to thoroughly clean and cannot be safely consumed raw.

 

Other produce may be salvaged depending on the crop and how far along it is in the growing season.  In general, any produce where the edible part was directly touched by flood water presents a potential risk to health if consumed.  This includes produce that was submerged or splashed by flood water.  The ability to salvage crops that will be eaten raw with minimal risk depends on the source of the flood water, time to harvest, and whether potential contamination will have been internalized into the plant tissue.  One starting point for evaluating the safety of produce from flooded gardens is the National Organic Program (NOP) guidance to farmers wishing to harvest produce from soil fertilized with non-composted manure.  The NOP requires a 90-day period before harvesting edible material from plants grown in soil fertilized with non-composted manure, but where the manure has not come in contact with the edible material.  NOP standards require a 120-day period before harvest of edible plant material that had direct contact with non-composted manure.  Research suggests that contamination from non-composted manure should present a more significant health risk than contamination from flood waters.

 

Early season crops that are to be harvested within a few weeks after a flood, and that remain above flood waters should be safe to eat if cooked or peeled.  Examine any produce carefully before harvest.  If it is soft, cracked, bruised, or has open fissures where contamination might have entered, throw it out.  Intact produce can be eaten, but should be rinsed with clear tap water (DO NOT use soap) followed by a brief soak (2 minutes) in a weak chlorine solution of two tablespoons bleach in a gallon of water.  Finally, rinse the produce in cool, clean tap water.  Peel or cook these items thoroughly before eating.  Take care to prevent cross contamination in the kitchen.  Change the bleach solution if the water is no longer clean.

 

Plants where fruits have set (tomatoes) or where flowers are evident (broccoli/cauliflower) at the time of flooding present an undefined risk.  Before consuming these crops raw, consider the source of the flood water, the time since contamination, and the health of the tissue.  Always discard any tissue that is bruised, cracked or otherwise blemished.  Washing fresh produce with clear water, followed by a brief soak in a dilute bleach solution (see above) and then rinsing before eating or peeling will help to reduce any remaining risk.

 

Underground vegetables such as beets, carrots and potatoes that are still early in their growth (at least four to eight weeks from harvest) should be safe if allowed to grow to maturity.  Root crops (i.e. new potatoes) that will be consumed within a month after flooding should be washed, rinsed and sanitized as directed above before cooking thoroughly.  Note that beets may be peeled after cooking, if desired.

 

Melons and other fruits that will be eaten raw should not be consumed.  Recent food-borne illness outbreaks linked to melons suggest that these low-acid fruits may not be safe even if surface-sanitized.

 

Late-season vegetables that result from flowers produced on growth that develops after flood waters subside should be safe.  This group of vegetables includes tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, squash, cucumbers, and other similar vegetables.  To increase safety, cook these vegetables  thoroughly, or at least wash them well and peel them, if possible, before eating.

 

Flood-damaged garden produce that is otherwise unfit for eating should not be canned or otherwise preserved.  Garden produce that would be safe to consume after washing, sanitizing and cooking (see above) may be safely canned.  Because the low temperature of home dehydrators does not destroy high numbers of bacteria, do not attempt to dehydrate produce from flooded gardens.

 

Source: Safely Using Produce from Flooded Gardens, Barbara Ingham and Steve Ingham, UW-Food Science, 3/28/2009.

 

Food Safety at U-Pick Farms

Field washing JG Ranch
Photo credit: tripadvisor.com

The U-Pick season is quickly approaching. Customers can carry and spread microbial pathogens like any other farm worker. It is important to remember that all customers entering the U-pick field need to be aware and follow good hygiene practices, too.

Encouraging customers to wash their hands prior to and after picking sends a positive message about farm stewardship and reduces microbial risks. Providing clean, accessible restrooms and handwashing facilities are essential, along with posting signs encouraging visitors to use these facilities.  Post signs on your property that remind customers to wash their hands before entering U-pick fields and locations of restroom facilities.

Click here for a guide to help you assess food safety practices on your farm.

U-Pick Food Safety Considerations:

  • Hand washing
  • Restroom locations
  • Not harvesting while sick with foodborne illness
  • No animals in the fields

Food Safety at the Market

Farmers’ markets are a great way to stock up on locally grown fresh fruits and vegetables. Both producers and consumers need to be aware of potential food safety risks that exist, not only in the grocery store but at the market too! Below are just a few resources that can help farmer’s market managers, vendors, and consumers keep fresh produce safe.

Colorado State University:
Colorado Farm-to-Table Food Safety
Colorado State University’s new Farm-to-Table Food Safety website was developed to enhance the accessibility of food safety resources and information to help Coloradans lower the risk of foodborne illnesses all along the food chain–from the producer to the consumer. The Extension website features information targeted to those who Grow, Prepare, or Eat food. On the Grow page, find resources for farmers’ market vendors and managers; learn how to create a farm food safety plan; or view recorded GAPs/GHPs training webinars.

The Ohio State University Extension Fact Sheet:
Produce Safety at the Farm Market: A Guide for Farmers and Sellers

Farmers’ Market Federation of New York:
Food Safety Recommendations for Farmers’ Markets

Using Horses on Vegetable Farms

Horses are a common sight on many farms, including those where produce is grown. Horses have not been implicated in foodborne illness outbreaks associated with produce; however, it is essential that growers adopt a proactive stance if they intend to continue the use of draft animals.

Many current food safety programs include elements designed to eliminate contact between animals and produce. For example, some programs prohibit animals from the production field, thereby requiring farmers to erect fences around fields. Others require that crops be destroyed if animal feces are found in the field prior to harvest.

Growers should review existing practices and conditions to minimize the likelihood of animal feces coming into contact with crops. GAPs for minimizing hazards from animals require the following:

  • With the exception of horses used in animal-powered agriculture, domestic animals should be excluded from fresh produce fields, vineyards, and orchards during the growing season.
  • Horses are used to cultivate fields in many areas in our state. The last cultivation with horses should be no less than 14 days before harvest. Any defecation in the field should be removed immediately, and the fruit around the defecation should not be picked.
  • During harvest, horses should be kept in wide harvest lanes left for them when the field was planted and at least five feet from the crops being harvested. The person driving the horses should have no contact with the produce being harvested.
  • Horse defecation during harvest should be scooped up immediately and disposed of by the driver. One to two inches of soil at the site of the feces should be included to ensure that all fecal matter is disposed of.

Growers must consider measures to ensure that animal waste from adjacent fields or waste storage facilities does not contaminate the produce production areas as runoff or leachate.

Source: Food Safety for Fruits and Vegetables, Ohio State University, ANR-25-10, 2010.

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