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Food Safety at Pick-Your-Own Fields
I can make a long list of why pick-your-own fruit and vegetable fields are great. After all, they provide local foods that are as fresh as possible. Other positive aspects include exercise, family activities, fun, education, great prices, and a chance to teach children about where our food comes from.
I could also add a couple negatives to the list. For example, you could be exposed to bacteria and microorganisms that can cause foodborne illnesses. The last thing you want to do at a pick-your-own market is pick up your own (or your neighbors’) germs along with the produce.
One way that pick-your-own fields are helping to reduce foodborne illness risks is by putting up a sign that recognizes Good Agricultural Practices (GAPs). The signs encourage customers to do their part in keeping the food safe. Specifics included:
Wash your hands before you pick
Make sure children wash their hands, too
Wash the fruit before eating it
These tips may sound really simple and basic, but washing your hands both before and after going into the field can help prevent contamination.
Most people think to wash after, but not before picking. Washing your hands before going to the field helps keep the produce clean and avoids possible contamination from hands that have not been washed after going to the bathroom, after smoking, after sneezing, blowing your nose, or coughing. All of these things could make your hands contaminated and then unknowingly you could contaminate the produce. It’s not just your food you’re protecting, but it’s the next customers’ food too!
I made a comment to one of the women working the scales at the market, telling her I thought that that was a great sign and that I appreciated the efforts made to keep the produce safe. I asked if many folks did wash their hands. She said “sadly, most don’t and it’s really important, but can’t make people do it.”
Some savvy farmers (like the one I visited) are also providing portable sinks that make it easy for folks to wash their hands.
To me these signs and the sinks are sending a positive message about this farm -- a message of concern for our health. Contamination can take place anywhere along the field-to-fork continuum. By following GAPs during growing, harvesting, sorting, packaging, and the storage of fresh fruits and vegetables, our farmers are working to keep our food safe.
By Cheryle Jones Syracuse, MS, Professor Emeritus at The Ohio State University
Here's a printable handout with the key points of today's post...
And if you'd like more resources to support food safety lessons, don't miss the following options...