How Proper Training Can Prevent the Spread of Human Pathogens on Your Farm

, Produce Safety Technician

Domestic animals can create problems on produce farms. Many people would like to bring their pets along with them to U-Pick produce farms, without realizing the issues they cause. With proper worker training, many of the issues involving domestic animals can be properly mitigated. Workers can have the knowledge and tools necessary to keep your farm safe.

Educating workers on the potential dangers of domestic animals is critical for the health and safety of your farm. Through education, workers will be able to identify dangers caused by domestic animals, and will have an understanding of why these policies are in place. For example, one of the topics covered in training should be how dangerous human pathogens can be, and health risks that fecal contamination can cause. Workers should have an understanding of pathogens such as E. coli 0157:H7, Listeria, Salmonella, Cryptosporidium, the health risks associated with these pathogens, and signs of infection.

It is possible to spread harmful human pathogens even when we believe domestic animals are friendly and well-behaved. This is why it is important to have standard operating procedures for the use, handling, and allowance of domestic animals on the farm.

When you enact standard operating procedures for different scenarios, it has great benefits to workers, visitors, and consumers. For example, you can implement mandatory hand washing for workers who have handled domestic animals and plan to handle produce. Policies for proper hand washing after handling domestic animals will help prevent contamination of harvested produce. Rules preventing pets from entering produce fields will help prevent contamination caused by fecal matter. Standard operating procedures to control working animal behaviors will also help prevent fecal contamination. Consider using fenced buffer zones, or pathways for animals that deter wildlife from entering growing areas. Another simple change that can have a large impact, is not using working animals in areas that are set to be harvested.

Training workers in the correct way to approach visitors who want to bring a pet onto the farm could be critical in retaining business. Many people may not be receptive to being told dogs are not allowed because it is “against the rules”. Alternatively, that person may be much more understanding if the worker explains the potential health risks which may be associated with their pet. Likewise, workers who know the reasoning behind standard operating procedure such as proper hand washing, or domestic animal use are more likely to abide by these procedures.

With proper worker training, standard operating procedures, and domestic animal policies the farm can be much safer for all parties involved, and mitigate the spread of human pathogens caused by fecal matter.