Agrifood Safety Produce Bites

Food Safety on U-Pick Farms

October 15, 2021 Michigan On-Farm Produce Safety
Agrifood Safety Produce Bites
Food Safety on U-Pick Farms
Show Notes Transcript

This episode features Barb Roth, owner of Red Barn Market in Lowell Michigan, and Mariel Borgman, Community Food Systems Educator with MSU Extension. They discuss various food safety risks on U-Pick farms and how you can mitigate them.

Resources:

Contact your local Produce Safety Technician
Michigan Agritourism Association
Worker Training Resources and Templates

Alison Work:

Hello and welcome to the Agrifood Safety Produce Bites Podcast, where we discuss all things produce safety, and dive into the rules and regulations surrounding the Food Safety Modernization Act Produce Safety Rule.

Barb Roth:

I am Barb Roth. I own Red Barn market in Lowell, Michigan, and we've got a little bit of U-pick apples. We're actually on a pause right now. We lost our block that we had for the last few years, that we've got baby trees in the ground. So we have a prime opportunity to educate our guests on what to expect when that comes into play. We also do U-pick pumpkins, but I feel like we don't have quite as many sanitary issues with U-pick pumpkins as we do with apples. So yeah.

Mariel Borgman:

And I'm Mariel Borgman. I'm a community food systems educator with MSU Extension, and I have a lot of experience in going to U-pick farms to take advantage of all the goodies there. That's one of my favorite things to do in the summer and fall in Michigan. And I also work with a lot of U-pick farms in various ways, but particularly in some of my farm marketing work. I work on the farm marketing track for the Great Lakes Expo and we have a lot of U-pick farms that come and take advantage of that education. So it's fun. I love U-pics. So Barb, when should visitors wash their hands when they come to U-pick farm?

Barb Roth:

Before they pick. So we should really think about anything that you're putting your hands on and then is going into potentially your mouth or someone else's mouth. You should wash your hands before you're touching that. So if you happen to visit a farm that has a petting farm, you would want to wash your hands before and after visiting the animals. And obviously before going into the U-pick. And then if you sneeze, wash your hands, and before you eat and whatnot, just wash your hands all the time. It's common kindergarten stuff. So important.

Mariel Borgman:

Yes. Yeah. So when we talk about, you know, welcoming guests to the farm for U-pick, we want them to wash their hands before they pick produce, after handling animals, after using the bathroom, so making sure that your restroom and hand washing stations are nearby. Obviously if you have like portable toilets, you don't want them to be really close to the food production areas, but you do want them to be close enough that folks can walk to them really easily, and making sure that they're well labeled and that people know where they are. Upon arriving at the farm, it's important to have good signage, not only like letting people know where the restrooms are, but also reminding them to wash their hands. And so the hand washing stations should accompany the restrooms. But it also might be a good idea to have some extra hand washing stations in those areas where you want them to wash their hands. So maybe having one set up near the U-pick area in your field, maybe having one near the animals if you have animals that that guests can interact with. So kind of thinking strategically about where people are going to be moving around the farm, and how quickly they'd be able to access a restroom and or a hand washing facility.

Barb Roth:

So what would be other food safety risks specific to a U-pick farm?

Mariel Borgman:

Yeah, well, one of the things that comes to mind is kind of crowd control and how the people move through your farm, especially if you're not just a U-pick farm, but you're also growing product that is going to be sold somewhere else. It's important to kind of make sure that people aren't walking through those areas where you don't want them to be walking because they could potentially be tracking, you know, contamination or even picking fruit that they're not supposed to be picking. So I think it's not only a food safety risk, but it's also you know, a risk to your business. So making sure it's really clear where people are allowed to go on the farm and where they're not allowed to go is one of the things that comes to mind. What about you?

Barb Roth:

I mean, I just I think making sure that you're washing your hands, especially after you have been potentially in the barnyard or use the restroom. And then making sure that if you have been in the barnyard, some farms let you go in with the animals, making sure that you, you know, kind of watch where you're walking, you're not tracking, potentially tracking that into areas of U-pick. I would say probably choose to U-pick first and then visit animals that might be a better direction of traffic flow for that. But really, you know, the biggest things are just making sure that customers are washing hands and not coming sick.

Mariel Borgman:

Yeah, so definitely it's important to kind of monitor to make sure people aren't coming to the farm sick. You'd hope that people would, you know, not come to the farm sick. And you can do your best to keep them from getting there by having signage and things on your website that say please don't come when you're sick, but people will come. And so training staff to look out for people that might look pale or clammy, that could be a sign that they're feeling nauseous, or if they're going to the bathroom quite a lot, that also might be a sign that they're suffering from vomiting or diarrhea. These are the kinds of things you'll want to look for. It's it's tough to have to ask someone to leave, but we definitely don't want folks to be spreading germs, especially foodborne illness germs. So anything that might indicate nausea, diarrhea, vomiting, jaundice, those types of things are what we're looking out for.

Barb Roth:

Right. Back to kindergarten basics.

Mariel Borgman:

Exactly. Okay, so what if I'm picking apples and I drop one on the ground? Can I take that one home? What are the risks of doing that?

Barb Roth:

Well, the risks are that whatever bacteria, whatever junk is on the ground, can get on that produce, and then get in with the fresh picked produce that you have. So the recommendation would be that if you drop it on the ground, you leave it on the ground. So should visitors be eating or drinking in the U-pick?

Mariel Borgman:

No. This is so hard, because when you're out there picking all that tasty food, all you want to do is take a snack, and really, it's important for visitors to not eat or drink in the fields. That is something that we talked about with workers and farms all the time is having designated eating and drinking areas. We don't want to introduce any potential food safety risks by having people eat and drink in the field. So having designated picnicking areas for families is really important, because people are going to want to come and experience the day at the farm. And they want to, you know, try those things that they just picked. And it's really important that they're keeping their hands clean by not putting the hands in their mouth full of berries. So making sure that people are aware that we shouldn't be eating in the field and giving them that designated space for them to take advantage of that food. Can visitors bring their own containers or is it best for the farm to provide containers for them to pick into?

Barb Roth:

The farm will most likely be providing containers. Typically, you want to leave your own things at home and use the containers that are designated for the produce that you're picking. And then bringing things from home can introduce things into the orchards or berry patches that maybe we don't want in there. So I would definitely lean towards the farm supplying the containers.

Mariel Borgman:

So how do you best inform visitors of your farm policies? How do you let them know what's expected of them when they arrive?

Barb Roth:

So, we have information on our website. We frequently post information on social media. And then we do have a list of farm rules. U-pick rules, barnyard rules, and such. So the gist of it is, is that we we do have a printed list of this is what we expect in our U-pick area, and then we reiterate with there is no eating, drinking, smoking, pets or potty in the orchard. And pleased to not do those things. So but then we also have, you know, we've got a list of rules for our barnyard area as well, which involve food safety and just safety in general. So just having signage and talking about it a lot.

Mariel Borgman:

Yeah, I think some of the the best practices when it comes to putting up signage for visitors on your farm, are including things in really simple language. You know, kind of think about putting it at an elementary school reading level. Really simple, not, you know, not a whole lot of text, incorporating pictures, pictures can be super helpful, and diagrams of the behavior you'd like to see, because you might get folks visiting your farm that don't speak English, or it's not their first language. And so if you have more graphics, it's easier. You don't have to actually have a written language to explain some of the things that you're trying to get across, but you may consider having signs and some of the more common other languages that folks speak in Michigan, such as Spanish, just to ensure that folks are reading and understanding those policies really well. And also, you know, think about the fact that a lot of times in U-pick operations you have families coming with young children, and so you want the kids to be able to easily read and understand those signs as well. So yeah, also putting them in areas where they're likely to be needing to do that behavior. So you know, hand washing signs right next to the sinks and in the bathrooms, and animal policies right in the animal barn. So putting them in those spaces as an extra reminder, in addition to all the things that Barb shared, like trying to get them that information in advance, and then reinforcing it with signage. So how do you enforce all these policies? It's a lot for people to take in. And you know, they're coming to have fun, to have a good time. So how do you make sure that they're following the rules?

Barb Roth:

I will say sometimes you pick your battles, but, staffing. You have to have staff and your staff has to be educated. Especially if you have something that's kind of out of this line of sight of your regular area, or you know, like your your most staffed area, so for instance, our U-pick pumpkins are in the back of our property, and people kind of get to wander back there on their own, which will kind of be the same when we reopen our U-pick apples. So it will be really vital that we have staff back there that is encouraging customers to make sure that they, you know, did you have a chance to see our U-pick rules? Or did you have a chance to see how you pick an apple, and then it's easy to incorporate the teaching them how they're going to pick their produce, right into the food safety side of things, too, without really being a killjoy, because you're right, they're here to have fun. And if all you're doing is throwing rules and rules and rules at them, they're like, oh, I just want to come in, you know, pick some produce and have a nice time. But I think just having some educated employees that are out and about and able to just kind of redirect behavior that to what we want them to do. So when you see kids pulling apples off the tree and dropping them on the ground, say, oh, let's put them right into your bag and leave the ones on the ground and we'll, you know, let's pick a new one off the tree. And then on the same side of it, as a business owner, you don't want them throwing apples on the ground or throwing the produce on the ground because then you're not selling that. So there's kind of two sides to that coin is teaching them like, be careful about how you're picking and so that you're doing it correctly so that you can get it into the container that the farm has provided for you, so that everybody wins.

Mariel Borgman:

Yeah. Great answer.

Barb Roth:

So what resources are out there for U-pick farms to help them to develop and implement food safety plans?

Mariel Borgman:

Yeah. So one that I always recommend is meeting with your local produce safety technician. They can help walk through all of the different aspects of your farm with you and help you to write that food safety plan. And then they'll also kind of help with that implementation as well. So always, always, always recommend them as a resource because it's free and confidential. And they're awesome people to work with. So definitely reach out to them. We also have resources within MSU Extension. We have lots of templates and examples of things that folks can just download and be able to use right away on their farm for work or training for signage, lots of resources there on our website as well.

Barb Roth:

And I would go ahead and plug Michigan Agritourism Association. So all of you U-pick farms that might be hearing this, I encourage you to join if you have not. There's just incredible resources in there as well that can help you when you have questions or are struggling or want to share your wins, we're the family to share that in.

Alison Work:

Links to anything referenced in this episode are provided in our show notes, which can be accessed on the website at canr.msu.edu/agrifood_safety. Thank you to everyone for listening, and don't forget to tune in next month for another episode of our produce bytes podcast.