Cheap and easy method of reducing foodborne illness risk from harvest workers

If you could do one thing that could reduce passage of gastrointestinal illness by 80 percent and foodborne illness by 50 percent, would you do it? Find out about this incredibly cheap, easy method of controlling illness.

Michigan State University Extension is offering information that, when implemented consistently, can reduce the incidence of gastrointestinal illness by as much as 80 percent and other foodborne illness by 50 percent. It can have significant impact at reducing the risks associated with harvest worker produce contamination. This method is easy and inexpensive to implement. It is called hand washing.

When a worker does virtually anything other than pick produce, an opportunity for introducing foodborne illness pathogens is created. That is why under GAPs it is recommended that harvest workers wash their hands prior to resumption of normal harvest activities. Instances that should automatically trigger hand-washing include beginning work, bathroom usage, taking a break, smoking, eating or blowing one’s nose.

In order to be effective at reducing germs, workers should use the following method: wet their hands using clean, potable, running water, then apply soap. A vigorous 20-second wash is sufficient to clean hands and remove most germs, whether or not the soap used is antibacterial. Once the hands are rinsed, they should be dried using a single use paper towel. Consistent execution of these steps ensures clean hands and reduces the risk of workers cross-contaminating harvested produce.

 If you have questions about harvest worker training for food safety or have difficulty tailoring GAPs to your farm, contact the Agrifood Safety Work Group at or 517-788-4292. To obtain a guidance document on hand washing, ask for guidance document AFSM010-01.

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