I recently attended a training hosted by the Minnesota Farmers Market Association that is required under the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) and thought it would be nice to share with everyone what steps we take to ensure the produce you get from is is safe to eat. There aren't a lot of photos for this post but it contains some very important things regarding produce safety.
Before we get into our safety practices I should outline the pathogens that are most likely to cause illness in humans. Those pathogens are E. coli, salmonella, norovirus, and listeria. E. coli, salmonella, and norovirus are usually transferred through feces while listeria may be present in soil. Since we do use animal manure as fertilizer on our farm we have to take special steps to make sure that the risk of these pathogens spreading from the field to your produce is trivial. So what do we do to make that happen?
We only spread animal manure in the fall and then incorporate it into the ground. This ensures that the manure breaks down in the soil and that the pathogens are killed over time as the soil breaks down the manure. In addition, since most of these pathogens do not survive as well in less than their ideal conditions (which is around 98 degrees F in a damp location with access to nutrients) they tend to die off over a period of time. The minimum amount of time recommended is 120 days - since we spread manure in November and don't harvest the first produce from our plots until late May that's over 180 days!
Manure isn't the only type of feces we need to worry about. Our plots are outside, in nature, and wild animals do have access to our plot. We do attempt to deter them from entering but that doesn't always stop them. So what do we do if a wild animal poops on our produce? Well, if we can visibly see poop on produce, we don't harvest that produce. Pretty simple. We also bury the animal poop so that it isn't at risk of future contact with our produce and so it gets broken down.
We also take steps in our pack shed to keep your produce safe. First, we make sure that we never have stagnant or standing water in or near our pack shed. Standing water is the perfect breeding ground for many pathogens and also makes for an easy transfer vector for pathogens. Second, we clean and dry our harvest buckets and coolers every day. We also make sure to change our water frequently when we're cleaning things like lettuce and spinach. Finally, we keep our pack shed clean and organized.
Personal hygiene is also important with respect to produce safety. We always wash our hands after using the bathroom and require our farm hands to do the same. We also don't handle produce when we're sick.
Most of this is commonsense but we thought it would be nice to share with you what we do to keep your produce safe. We think about this and as you can see, we take steps to ensure your produce is ALWAYS safe to eat. We do still recommend that you rinse all produce you receive from our farm. It's a really good practice and an extra step to take to make sure your produce is ready to eat.