As novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) precautions increase throughout South Carolina and the nation, it is reassuring to know that our food does not contribute to the spread of the virus. The United States Department of Agriculture, Food and Drug Administration, and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that there is no evidence of food or food packaging being associated with the transmission of COVID-19. However, it is always important to follow good hygiene practices when handling or preparing foods: wash hands and surfaces often, separate raw meat from other foods, cook to the right temperature, and refrigerate foods promptly.
COVID 19 precautions have closed restaurants to sit down customers and are forcing producers to find new outlets for their products. They are finding creative ways to bring their product direct to consumers through on-farm pickup, home delivery, and neighborhood drop-offs. The South Carolina Department of Agriculture has established a website to help farms reach consumers: Find Local Farm-Fresh Food During COVID-19: http://agriculture.sc.gov/coronavirus/local/?fbclid=IwAR0D4syBEZFbuOMVbg122Z8ELL5V7xqAjD3Xuz2iym0qOazZ2j9ITfIiyRA. To be added to this website please contact LauraKate McAllister at firstname.lastname@example.org. The Carolina Farm Stewardship Association has created a similar website: How to Buy Local While Social Distancing: On-Farm Pickups & More: https://www.carolinafarmstewards.org/on-farm-pickups/. If you are interested in being listed here, please email Mary Beth Miller email@example.com.
Where farm food safety is concerned, growers are taking every precaution to ensure that their staff and their customers stay healthy. The US Department of Homeland Security has included workers in the food and agriculture sector as essential critical infrastructure workers, including agricultural production, food processing, distribution, retail and foodservice, and allied industries. These workers should continue to report to work because they are vital to the food and health supply chain. Hugh Weathers, the South Carolina Commissioner of Agriculture, agrees. “In South Carolina, key industries like poultry and forestry are essential to feeding and caring for our population,” Weathers said. “During this unsettling time, as businesses take appropriate steps to keep their workers safe, food and fiber industry workers have a special responsibility to maintain their normal work schedules. I applaud the many workers helping to keep us all fed and healthy. Working together, we will get through this difficult time”.
It is important that farms maintain good sanitation and personal hygiene practices, along with following the CDC guidelines of social distancing and staying home when you are sick, to prevent the spread of COVID-19. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prepare/prevention.html. Frequent and proper handwashing can stop the transmission of the virus and is already a part of the farm food safety protocol. Research from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) has reported that the coronavirus can remain viable on plastic and stainless-steel surfaces for up to three days, and on cardboard for up to 24 hours. This means that proper cleaning and sanitation of all food contact surfaces are essential.
The University of Vermont Extension gives a succinct overview of what growers should do to prevent the spread of COVID-19:
- Stay Away from Produce if Sick – If someone is sick, they should be nowhere near fruit and vegetables that others are going to eat. This is likely already part of your farm’s food safety plan and policies, but this is a good reminder to emphasize and enforce the policy. Make sure employees stay home if they feel sick and send them home if they develop symptoms at work. Consider posting signs asking customers not to shop at your farm stand if they have symptoms.
- Practice Social Distancing – By putting more space between you and others, you can reduce your chances of getting ill. This might mean limiting or prohibiting farm visitors or reducing the number of off-farm meetings you attend in person. Avoid shaking hands and other types of physical contact. This also reduces the risk of your produce coming into contact with someone who is ill before it heads to market.
- Minimize the Number of Touches – Consider changes in your policies and operations to minimize the number of times produce is touched by different people. This may include workers, distributors, and customers.
- Wash Your Hands – Reinforce the importance of washing hands well when arriving at work, when changing tasks (e.g., moving from office work to wash/pack), before and after eating, after using the bathroom, before putting on gloves when working with produce, and after contact with animals. Soap + water + 20 seconds or more are needed to scrub all surfaces of your hands and fingers thoroughly. Then, dispose of paper towels in a covered, lined trash container.
- Cleaning, Sanitizing, and Drying – According to the FDA, there is no indication that this virus has spread via food. But, we know viruses (including SARS-CoV-2 ) survive and spread via hard surfaces. Farms handle produce using tools and equipment with surfaces. We also know that produce has an outside surface. Viruses, in general, can be relatively long-lasting in the environment and have the potential to be transferred via food or food contact surfaces. So, there’s no better time than the present to review, improve, and reinforce your standard operating procedures for cleaning, sanitizing, disinfecting, and drying any food contact surfaces, food handling equipment, bins, and tools. Remember, cleaning means using soap and water; sanitizing is using a product labeled for sanitizing, disinfecting involves higher concentrations of a product labeled for disinfection, and drying means allowing the surfaces to dry completely before use.
- Plan for Change – Many produce farms are lean operations run by one or two managers and a minimal crew. Do you have a farm plan if you become severely ill? How do things change if half your workforce is out sick? More business and labor planning guidance is available at the Cornell Agricultural Workforce Development site.
Below is a list of useful resources pertaining to COVID-19. If you have questions, please contact Chad Carter, Clemson Extension Food Systems and Safety Associate, firstname.lastname@example.org, 843-730-5211.
Covid-19 (Coronavirus) Resources
- FDA – Food Safety and the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19): https://www.fda.gov/food/food-safety-during-emergencies/food-safety-and-coronavirus-disease-2019-covid-19
- USDA – Coronavirus Disease (Covid-19): https://www.usda.gov/coronavirus
- CDC – Coronavirus (COVID-19): https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/index.html
- CDC – Interim Guidance for Businesses and Employers:
- Cornell Covid-19 Food Industry Resources: https://instituteforfoodsafety.cornell.edu/coronavirus-covid-19/food-industry-resources/
- SC DHEC – Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19): https://www.scdhec.gov/infectious-diseases/viruses/coronavirus-disease-2019-covid-19
- SCDA – COVID-19 (Coronavirus) Outbreak: http://agriculture.sc.gov/coronavirus/
Food Safety, Farms, and Farmers Markets
- NC State Extension – COVID-19: Farming Resources: https://strawberries.ces.ncsu.edu/2020/03/covid-19-farming-resources/
- Cornell University – Novel Coronavirus Prevention & Control for Farms: https://agworkforce.cals.cornell.edu/2020/03/12/novel-coronavirus-prevention-control-for-farms/?fbclid=IwAR33L94TtqPQYynR0nHh7VliLGawWaeRCcM_APvei8c2ExtIYEZZWBWjg38
- University of Vermont Extension: Considerations for Fruit and Vegetable Growers Related to Coronavirus & COVID-19: https://blog.uvm.edu/cwcallah/2020/03/18/considerations-for-fruit-and-vegetable-growers-related-to-coronavirus-covid-19/
- NC State – Building a Handwashing Station: https://foodsafety.ces.ncsu.edu/building-a-handwashing-station/
- The University of Minnesota – How to build a field handwashing station in 10 easy steps for under $20: https://scgrowercom.files.wordpress.com/2020/03/handwashing_station_instructions-1.pdf
- EPA List N: Disinfectants for Use Against SARS-CoV-2 (Coronavirus): https://www.epa.gov/pesticide-registration/list-n-disinfectants-use-against-sars-cov-2
- Farmers Market Coalition COVID-19 Daily Updates: https://farmersmarketcoalition.org/farmers-markets-covid19/
- Covid-19 FAQ for Farmers Markets: Steps for Markets and Market Managers. NC State Extension: https://foodsafety.ces.ncsu.edu/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/Farmers-Market_COVID-19_031320.pdf?fwd=no
- Covid-19 FAQ for U-Pick Farms: Steps for Farm Managers. NC State Extension: https://foodsafety.ces.ncsu.edu/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/U-Pick-Farms_COVID-19_031620.pdf?fwd=no
- Coronavirus Employee Training Video in Spanish – CDC – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5PQbNtuYcIw&feature=youtu.be
- USDA H-2A COVID-19 Information: https://www.farmers.gov/manage/h2a
- SCDA – Find Local Farm-Fresh Food During COVID-19: http://agriculture.sc.gov/coronavirus/local/?fbclid=IwAR0D4syBEZFbuOMVbg122Z8ELL5V7xqAjD3Xuz2iym0qOazZ2j9ITfIiyRA
- CFSA: How to Buy Local While Social Distancing: On-Farm Pickups & More
- Cornell University – Food Safety Recommendations & Frequently Asked Questions for the Consumer: https://instituteforfoodsafety.cornell.edu/coronavirus-covid-19/food-safety-recommendation-consumer/
- There’s little risk of catching coronavirus through takeout or delivery, experts say. Post and Courier March 21, 2020: https://www.postandcourier.com/health/covid19/there-s-little-risk-of-catching-coronavirus-through-takeout-or/article_6f43467c-695d-11ea-9b6d-4be498c1b87b.html
- Don’t fear eating your fruits and veggies as virus concerns grip nation. Perdue University: https://www.purdue.edu/newsroom/releases/2020/Q1/dont-fear-eating-your-fruits-and-veggies-as-virus-concerns-grip-nation.html
- Food Safety and Coronavirus: A Comprehensive Guide Serious Eats, J. Kenji López-Alt, 3/20/2020: https://www.seriouseats.com/2020/03/food-safety-and-coronavirus-a-comprehensive-guide.html
- Small Business Administration (SBA) to Provide Disaster Assistance Loans for Small Businesses Impacted by Coronavirus (COVID-19)
- James Beard Foundation Food and Beverage Industry Relief Fund
- SC servers, others can get 6 weeks unemployment pay without applying for other jobs. The State, March 19, 2020: https://www.thestate.com/news/coronavirus/article241299726.html
- What restaurant owners and employees need to know about filing for unemployment. Post and Courier, March 19, 2020: https://www.postandcourier.com/health/covid19/what-restaurant-owners-and-employees-need-to-know-about-filing/article_b9ab0e22-6965-11ea-bf07-0b0c5f34fab4.html