MT. VERNON, Ill. — With the disruption of normal daily activities due to the coronavirus (COVID-19), there are many questions circulating both with growers and producers in the agricultural arenas as well as farmer markets and farmers’ market managers. This article is to help find answers to the questions, as well as offer research-based answers.
The COVID-19 virus, according to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), is a different variation from the MEARS or SARS virus from previous years, which means that there is a lot about this new virus that is relatively unknown at this time. What is known is that it can be spread person-to-person via respiratory droplets resulting from coughing or sneezing. At the time of this writing, the Food and Drug Administration2 is not aware of any reports that suggest the COVID-19 virus is transmitted by food or food packaging. Respiratory viruses need a living host to grow, and generally are not transmitted by food. However, it is the closeness of individuals at public places that causes the most concerns.
With this being said, it is important for all individuals involved with food handling and food production (such as roadside stands, U-Pick farms, farmers markets, community gardens) to maintain good agricultural safety practices. These should include:
- Hand Hygiene
- Cleaning and Sanitizing
- According to the World Health Organization, it is uncertain how long the virus that causes COVID-19 survives on surfaces. Studies suggest it may persist for a few hours or up to several days, and survival can vary under different conditions (e.g. type of surface, temperature or humidity of the environment). That is why it is so important to clean surfaces on a daily basis (or more often). Properly wash hands (Soap + water+ 20 seconds or more, rinse and dry with single-use paper towels), or if this is not available, use a 60% ethanol or 70% isopropanol hand sanitizer, according to the CDC.
- Clean your hands with an alcohol-based hand rub (70% or more alcohol) or wash them with soap and water.
- The EPA List N includes products that meet EPA’s criteria for use against SARS-CoV-2, the cause of COVID-19. These products can be used to disinfect or sanitize surfaces that are contaminated with the novel coronavirus, and was created as one way for farmers and educators to search for a sanitizer that might meet their needs. Each farmer must decide for themselves whether the products are appropriate, based on the EPA label and the Safety Data Sheet for that product.
- The Produce Safety Alliance (PSA) has released a publication (2018), “Introduction to Selecting an EPA-Labeled Sanitizer”. In the article, they have a link to an excel tool to help growers select a sanitizer suitable for their operation. Keep In mind, the PSA Sanitizer tool and the EPA N list were created for different reasons and they project different information. When in doubt, in reference to COVID-19, use the EPA N list.
- Knowing which sanitizer should be used can be confusing to growers, especially when it comes to reducing the COVID-19 virus, and having the product in contact with food surfaces. The EPA has posted information that covers the frequently asked questions about EPA List N. One question: “I can’t tell if the product I’m interested in is on the list or not. Can you help me?” According to Donna Clements, Produce Safety Alliance Southwest Regional Extension Associate, “I think the search function would be the most helpful way to use this EPA list. Say, for example, a grower has a bottle of sanitizer on hand and they want to see if it’s on the EPA list. They could enter the first two parts of the EPA registration number (ie: 10324-105) into the search function and see if it’s on the list”.
- Above all, do not allow sick employees to come to work. Because of the unknown variances of incubation times for the COVID-19, and the unknowns of how long the virus can remain on surfaces, it may be prudent to keep sick employees off the farm. For those employees that are able to work at this time, it may be prudent to require them to maintain a six foot social distance between each other in the field and packinghouse.
- COVID-19 for U-Pick Farms
- COVID-19 FAQ for Farmers Markets
- COVID-19 FAQ for Community Gardens
Additional resources for the COVID-19 can be found at:
- Produce Safety Alliance – Food Industry Resources for Coronavirus (COVID-19)
- Center for Disease Control – Coronavirus (COVID-19)
- World Health Organization – Rolling Updates on coronavirus disease (COVID-19)
- Food and Drug Administration – Frequently Asked Questions
Additional questions can be directed to Laurie George at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (618) 242-0780.
— Laurie George, Local Food Systems and Small Farms Educator
University of Illinois Extension
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