Food Handling and COVID-19
In our role of connecting local farmers with chefs and vacationers interested in their fresh produce we want to encourage safe food handling, pick-up and delivery best practices during the COVID-19 Pandemic. In preparation for the 2020 summer season we researched food safety procedures from the FDA, NC State Extension and the US Travel Association, discussed them with the farmer groups participating in this initiative, and facilitated related training and awareness programs in collaboration with local Extension offices. In this page we summarize some of the most relevant advice and make select resources available to farmers, partners and vacationers.
Reducing transmission starts with adapting operations, modifying workers’ behaviors and monitoring their health. Farmers must educate their workers on the symptoms of COVID-19, monitor their symptoms regularly, and excuse workers that show any symptoms. Farmers also must regularly disinfect equipment and high-touch surfaces. Additionally, to reduce the potential spread of virus among workers, farmers must provide personal protection equipment to workers, enforce the use of this equipment and encourage proper hand hygiene.
In addition to ensuring that their workers are healthy and that the food products sold are sanitized, the US Travel Association explains that farmers need to adapt their retail and delivery processes to limit the opportunity for virus transmissions and enable a positive consumer experience (1). Accordingly, farmers are encouraged to handout produce bags to vacationers so that each vacationer only touches the bag(s) they bought. Additionally, when delivering the bags, farmers must wear protective personal equipment including latex gloves and face mask/shield; they will make sanitizer solution available to vacationers, who should use it before picking-up the produce bags; and they will define appropriately spaced waiting zones so as to enable social distancing at pick-up.
Food handling at home
There is no indication that food or food packaging has served in significant connection with virus transmission. Nevertheless, produce should be washed with fresh water before consumption – produce should not be washed with chemical disinfectants or detergents. It is not recommended to store groceries outside the house or in a car or garage before bringing them into the house as this may cause other food safety issues. Reusable grocery bags (such as the VSA bags) can be cleaned with soapy water.