Risks posed by volunteers and visitors on produce farms

Volunteers and visitors pose a particular risk of contaminating fresh produce during harvest operations. Produce growers should be aware of these risks and potential preventive controls.

Many factors affect the quality and safety of food grown on a produce farm. None are as important as controlling access of who is near the produce as it is being grown, harvested and sold.

If a produce grower stops and thinks about their food safety knowledge, they will find they understand much of how food safety interacts with their farming activities. More importantly, they may also have a clear understanding of the risks they are exposing themselves to in day-to-day activities. This knowledge tends not to be present in the general public including those who may visit the farm.

Volunteers and visitors may compromise the safety of the crop simply through the normal course of harvest operations. Volunteers may not realize following Standard Operating Procedures is important, or the need to wash hands before commencing harvest operations. Volunteers may be less inclined to keep a record of something like a bathroom inspection, because, after all, a volunteer comes to a farm to help do the work of growing the crop, not doing the paperwork. Visitors may not realize that their general health, or lack thereof, in the past 24 hours may increase the potential for a foodborne illness outbreak.

 A surefire preventive control for the risks posed by volunteers or visitors begins with having a volunteer and visitor policy. The policy can be very simple, such as the one below:

"It is the policy of Farm Q to not allow volunteers to help with growing and harvesting the crop. Visitors to the farm are allowed, but are required to sign in before entering the fields. Visitors will also be oriented on food safety practices on Farm Q prior to entry."

With regards to visitors, it is fairly important not to be too restrictive in your policy. There will be visitors and some may need access to the field and the crop. Providing a framework for compliance for visitors in your policy is critical. 

If you would like more information on writing a visitor policy for your farm, or have general questions on implementing good food safety practices on your farm, contact the Michigan State University Extension Agrifood Safety Workgroup at 517-788-4292 or at gaps@msu.edu.

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