Putting contaminated produce and soils in their place

To ensure food safety compliance, a produce grower must be ready and vigilant in case a contamination event occurs. By preparing an in-field contamination policy, many mistakes can be avoided and you can show you’ve thought seriously about mitigating risk.

What happens if a farm worker vomits in the field? How do you handle it if a tractor begins to leak fluid in the row middles? Will you be ready if the fertilizer nurse truck tips and dumps fertilizer on the field edge? Dealing with these situations requires planning to execute mitigation effectively. Growers can show they’ve thought about and planned for these potential risks by creating a policy on in-field contamination of soil and produce. Here are some key parts to include in your policy:

Containment. How will you contain the contaminant? Some contaminants move away from the point of contact into the field. As they move, these contaminants can further contaminate more of the field. Containing the spill is a very important first step. You may wish to put together a containment kit that goes out with tractors or farm workers to be prepared should a contamination occur.

Contaminant removal. Now that the contaminant is contained, how will you get the contaminant out of the field without having it get on more of the crop? Will you scoop up the soil that has been contaminated and place it in a trash bag? Will you have a special harvest container for contaminated soil and crop? From a food safety perspective, burying contaminated soil within the field or immediately adjacent to the field are not effective means of removal.

Disposition of the Crop. Is the contaminated crop going to be destroyed, composted or landfilled? Once a crop has a contaminant on it (i.e., blood, bodily fluids, excess pesticide, fertilizer or oil), it cannot be cleaned. The focus must be on preventing contamination and on removal of contaminated food if an event does happen.

By considering these components when crafting an in-field contamination policy, many mistakes can be avoided and you are documenting that you have thought seriously about mitigating the risk. Growers who have specific questions about developing an in-field contamination policy or who have difficulty tailoring GAPs (Good Agricultural Practices) to their farm are welcome to contact the Agrifood Safety Work Group at gaps@msu.edu or (517) 788-4292.

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