Farm biosecurity basics: Keeping employees healthy

On a field crop farm, the goal of biosecurity is to keep the owners, operators and staff safe and healthy.

Washing hands
Wash your hands! Photo by Phil Tocco, MSU Extension

Many of our farms that have animal production or crops for direct consumption already follow industry or licensing standards for biosecurity on their farms. Other farms such as row crops (e.g., corn, soybean) may not have basic biosecurity measures in place. Biosecurity is the implementation of measures that reduce the risk of the introduction and spread of disease agents, with the goal being to keep owners, operators and staff safe. Below are a few recommendations for farmers who wish to develop or perhaps further improve their biosecurity standards.

According to Grimsley, 2003, standard operating procedure (SOP) is a simple yet thorough document that provides instructions on how to perform a routine or task that follows industry or business guidelines. Creating and implementing standard operation procedures that provide both internal and external biosecurity are two important components. Implementing the internal measures like vehicle cleaning and appropriate use of PPE will help keep staff safe and healthy.

External biosecurity

Most farms have guests almost daily, such as seed sale representatives. Guests could not only bring in a disease like the flu but could also be carrying weed seed and soil pathogens from other farms, posing a biosecurity risk to personnel and crops alike. Because of this, having a standard operating procedure for external biosecurity should be implemented too. This would include having guests sign in, sanitize before touching equipment and wear personal protective equipment when appropriate, like gloves, masks and disposable booties.

Internal biosecurity

Vehicles. Vehicles should be cleaned between users and barrier methods employed to assist with keeping them clean. Examples could include using disinfectant wipes and window cleaner and easily removed or disposable car mats. Using disposable booties may be preferable for keeping vehicle floors clean where removable or disposable floor mats are not an option. Areas people touch like steering wheels, radio dials and door handles or where they are likely to have coughed or sneezed deserve special attention.

It is important to remember that disinfectants require a specified amount of time to remain on a surface to kill pathogens; this information can be found on the product label. One example of a simple but effective disinfectant that can be used on surfaces or tires is 1 tablespoon of bleach to a gallon of water in a backpack sprayer.

Equipment. Tractors, harvest and planting equipment should be cleaned after each use and between employees. Disinfectant wipes and window cleaner are readily available and easy to use. Pay attention to areas where hands will come into contact with the equipment, and to minimum contact times required for disinfection. Consider disinfecting tires between fields to decrease soil pathogen spread.

Personal protective equipment. Clothing should be laundered daily and we recommend farm-specific clothing. Consider handling clothing for biosecurity like you would handle clothes for pesticide applications—washing them separately from other clothing. Include a cleaning cycle (e.g., run an empty rinse cycle) before household clothing is washed in in the same machine.

Having clean clothing specific to the farm can minimize the spread of infectious agents. Utilize gloves and masks/respirators when appropriate for the task or if a biosecurity risk may otherwise be present. Workers using personal protective equipment should be trained on their proper use and limitations. If wearing a respirator, medical evaluations and fit testing should be performed.

Personal sanitation. Washing hands for 20 seconds before starting work in the morning and before and after smoking, eating, going to the bathroom and taking work breaks is critical in preventing the spread of disease. Having hand sanitizer available in vehicles is good, but it’s no substitute for handwashing.

Although these recommendations may seem simple, they are a great first step in implementing biosecurity on your farm. If your farm has animal production or food safety considerations, please look into more in-depth or category specific recommendations on the Michigan State University Extension website.

If you are concerned about the spread of COVID-19, the infectious disease caused by novel coronavirus, on your farm:

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