Good practices key to ensuring food safety

By Gary Sliworsky
Ag rep, Emo

There is an emerging consumer preference to purchase fresh local food products at farmers’ markets and roadside farm stands.
These products are grown on farms tending to be small in size and producing mixed commodities of fruits, vegetables, livestock, and poultry.
Many view these products as safer than those from large factory farms. This is not necessarily a valid assumption.
Food safety, whether farms are small or large, is achieved by following good agricultural practices. Mixed farms, where both horticultural and animal products can be found, pose special risks.
There are increased hazards from cross-contamination and steps must be taken to reduce those risks.
The following are some recommendations from Don Blakely, Food Safety Programs Branch, Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs.
Any farm where manure is produced or used must deal with the risks associated with pathogens such as E. coli O157:H7, salmonella, and campylobacter, which pose a risk of serious illness if fruit or vegetables are contaminated.
Here are some good agricultural practices to follow when fruit and vegetables are grown and harvested in proximity to livestock production:
•Growing site
Ensure crops are grown on ground where no run-off occurs from livestock housing or pasture areas.
•Use of manure and compost
As a rule, never use fresh manure on land where you intent to harvest fruits and vegetables within 120 days.
Manure must be properly composted before use to ensure pathogens are reduced to acceptable levels.
•Irrigation water
Ensure water used to irrigate is free of hazardous pathogens. Be aware of hazards associated with your water source and test water before use.
Employ drip irrigation to prevent water from getting on the surface of crops such as lettuce or spinach.
•Traffic patterns and personal hygiene
Be aware that hazardous pathogens can be spread by manure on footwear and soiled hands.
Limit movements between the livestock housing areas and vegetable growing areas unless footwear is changed or cleaned.
Always wash your hands after contact with livestock, and before handling any ready-to-eat harvested fruits and vegetables.
•Harvesting
Ensure the tools used for harvesting, such as knives, are cleaned and that your harvested products are put into clean baskets and containers.
Never let harvest containers sit on the ground.
•Wash water
Washing produce is the most critical practice in preventing food safety hazards.
Some fruits and vegetables can absorb water, and pathogens along with it, if the water temperature in dump tanks is too cold.
If dump tanks are used, a small amount of contamination can be passed to all products. If water is recycled, there can be a five-fold increase in the amount of contaminated product.
Test water before washing and treat it, if necessary, to kill pathogens.
Treat all recycled wash water. It is required by law that the final rinse of fruit and vegetables must be potable.
•Getting the product to market
Transport farm product in clean containers and vehicles. Display it away from any further possible cross-contamination.
For example, do not set up a roadside sale stand right next to a cattle pasture.
Flies love cows and manure. They can easily transfer pathogens from manure to the fruits and vegetables in your sales stand.
Preventing food-borne illness is vital. By following these good agricultural practices, a farmer can ensure consumers are confident they are purchasing healthy, nutritious farm produce.
Dates to remember
•May 6—Rainy River District Regional Abattoir Inc. annual general meeting, Barwick Hall, 7:30 p.m.

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