Apr 4, 2022
Preventing cross contamination: spring chores

Warmer than average March temperatures have started the growing season ahead of “normal.” Springtime brings a seemingly endless series of things to do in the field, plus the picking and packing of early-season high-tunnel crops.

With so many things going on at the same time, we need to be mindful of food safety and avoid cross-contamination. High tunnel production establishes early-season markets and is valuable for many farms. Harvesting and marketing early-season leafy greens at the same time and with the same workers who also do field work can increase food safety risks.

To minimize these risks, move from clean operations – like harvesting and hand packing leafy greens in a high tunnel – to “dirty” operations, such as setting transplants in the field. While this sounds logical, it isn’t always possible. Spring rains quickly change plans, halting field work to work under cover.

Photo: Chris Walsh

To avoid cross contamination with field soil, a hand-washing station near your greenhouse or high tunnel will reduce food safety risks in picking. Changing into an extra pair of barn boots before entering the high tunnel or greenhouse reduces the chance of tracking in field soil and any soil amendments.  Alternatively, a shallow boot-sanitizing tray outside the door should reduce the risk of tracking field pathogens into your high tunnel. If you use a boot tray, be sure to keep the sanitizer tray filled with clean water and sanitizer.

Remember to map and inspect your water distribution system for the season if you have not done that by now. This is a requirement for both Maryland GAP and the Produce Safety Rule. Make a checklist of all connections and fittings. Inspect them for signs of corrosion and leaks. Repair them now. If water leaks out, contamination can come in to the system. Keep the checklist and map with your farm food safety records. Your cell phone camera can be a handy tool when making this kind of record.

University of Maryland

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