Farmers are Food Handlers
As farmers, we stand behind our produce with pride; this is my sweet corn, my melon, my squash . . .
But ultimately, it isn’t our food.
Farmers are food handlers growing someone else’s food. We are responsible for the safety of our produce – our customer’s food.
Potential Sources Of Food Borne Illness
There are numerous ways fresh produce can become a source of food borne illness, including microbial: from humans, animals, insects, soil, or water; chemicals: such as organic or non-organic pesticides, cleaning supplies, or tractor fluids; and physical: pieces of glass, metal, or other materials. Of these, microbial risks cause the majority of food borne illnesses and the most severe impact, including the potential for death and life-long adverse health impacts.
Buyers rightfully have expectations that farmers have taken precautions for the safety of their food. Even if you sell direct, are exempt from the FSMA Produce Rule, or don’t have a buyer making food safety demands, as a farmer, you are a food handler, and you are responsible and liable for the safety of your product.
1. Food safety is something that every farm, no matter its size or financial position, must attend to.
2. On-farm food safety practices protect farmers as much as they protect customers.
Food Safety Is A Management Commitment
Having a food safety mindset does not necessarily mean having state-of-the-art equipment or extra staff people to run a food safety program. Evaluating your farm through the lens of food safety, and setting up procedures so that food safety practices are embedded into daily operations, will go a long way toward reducing your farm’s risk of being the source of a food borne illness.
1 st Step: Perform A Farm Risk Assessment
To reduce food safety risks, each farm needs to identify what microbiological, chemical, and physical hazards exist on their farm, assess the risks associated with these hazards, and implement practices to minimize these risks. Each farm must perform their own risk assessment and determine which guidelines are appropriate for their operation.
A helpful tool for farm assessment is to create farm maps that identify previous and present land use. Accurate farm maps, with fields, water, and potential pathogen sources, provide a clear foundation in food safety manuals and help provide full trace back of the farm’s produce. Also, potential risks that might have been overlooked can become evident with the creation of the farm map. Download Farm Maps: Previous and Present Land Use Documentation, a one-page handout that will guide you through creating a farm map assessment.
2 nd Step: Write A Food Safety Plan
Once you’ve done a risk assessment, writing a Food Safety Plan will help you systemize and implement your food safety practices, and develop a record keeping system that documents these practices. It will also provide a valuable tool for training yourself and your employees, and to delegate responsibilities. Having a Food Safety Plan in place and good documentation of that plan is also important protection for your farm’s security, finances, and reputation. If a foodborne illness does occur, having a Food Safety Plan and traceable records puts your farm in a good position. With a plan that you can prove you follow, you are more likely to be able to show that any problem with your produce occurred somewhere else in the food system, not on your farm.
The On-Farm Food Safety Plan Tool, developed by FamilyFarmed, is a free, web-based resource for developing your farm’s Food Safety Plan. Since your Food Safety Plan must be specific and scale appropriate to your individual farm, this tool takes farmers through a series of questions, collects the information, and then generates a customized on-farm Food Safety Plan based on user input. The tool is designed for use by small to mid-scale growers, is available in Spanish and English, and includes a full set of record keeping tools to document food safety programs. Visit www.onfarmfoodsafety.org to learn more.
3 rd Step: Create An Action Plan For Implementation
A written Food Safety Plan won’t serve your farm and customers if you write it, set it on a shelf, and forget about it when the busy season hits. Review your Food Safety Plan and create an Action Plan. Include who will do tasks, when, prioritization, resources needed, and an accountability system. This will create a project management system to help you organize the task of food safety implementation in doable steps. Download our Action Plan template.
Protect Your Farm And Customers
Take the time now to create a Food Safety Plan to protect your farm and customers. Once you have, you will be glad you did, and the biggest part of the task will be behind you. Food safety will be part of your farm’s management commitment, and procedures will be embedded into your daily operations, helping to reduce your farm’s risk of being the source of a food borne illness.