FSMA compliant worker training: Doing it right every time

As a fresh produce grower, are you sharing the right information as part of your worker training to be FSMA compliant? Find out if you have all your food safety bases covered.

There are certain policies that every farm worker needs to know. Whether it is the proper way to wash their hands or where the first aid kit is, you usually orient your workers at the beginning of the season with this kind of information. On farms looking to be Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) compliant, their food safety plan must include a formal, annual orientation and worker training program through which food safety policies are established, reviewed and documented. These annual trainings are in addition to the FSMA requirement that a member of the farm have a seven-hour food safety training in order to be compliant.

Crafting these policies well is critical to successful compliance. Ideally, the policies are clear, concise and as uncomplicated as possible, allowing workers to understand and implement the policies and practices using common sense. Policies should reflect the realities of an individual operation and should never include superfluous information or detail.

Take a moment to think through where farm workers can be directed to eat and drink and how you will describe that area. For example, one might say workers are permitted to eat and drink anywhere outside the crop production zones as opposed to stating that they must eat at the picnic tables by the barn—the first statement allows more flexibility in compliance, but will require you to define production zones. In the policy written in your food safety plan, indicate exactly where harvest workers must engage in activities such as eating, drinking and smoking. Make sure farm workers are informed of these locations during worker training. Encourage this behavior by conveniently placing restrooms and hand-washing stations in this area as well.

Farm workers will also need to know what illnesses can be hazardous to food safety and how to recognize their associated symptoms. These symptoms include diarrhea, fever, vomiting, jaundice, sore throat with a fever, or a lesion full of pus on any exposed skin. When they have these symptoms, they need to tell their supervisor. Growers may want to keep a number of non-food related jobs these farm workers can be involved with so they are more willing to report when they feel ill, as it will not be a loss in a day’s pay. A reference regarding disease symptoms for workers and supervisors alike is a nice addition to the appendices of a food safety plan.

As part of the farm worker training, growers will want to point out where the first aid kits are and review policies on injuries as well as blood and bodily fluids in the field. All injuries must be recorded and employees should be directed to report injuries to the staff member responsible for the record. Fully explain the farm’s policy on any bodily fluid contamination of produce and in-field contamination as well as what to do with the produce or affected soil. A standard worker training DVD is available for purchase from Cornell University or for rental at a few key Michigan State University Extension offices.

If you have difficulty tailoring GAPs to your farm or would like to locate a copy of the worker training DVD, contact the Agrifood Safety Work Group at gaps@msu.edu or 517-788-4292. To obtain more information about worker training, ask for guidance document AFSM009-01.

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