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Desert Farming Initiative offers COVID-19 safety tips

Grocery shopping and produce safety have been concerns during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Desert Farming Initiative, part of the University of Nevada, Reno, Experiment Station, provides information to help producers and consumers minimize food-safety risks.

Since the outbreak of COVID-19, many consumers have been grappling with how to balance the need for fresh food with the risks posed by grocery shopping. An additional concern amid the virus is the health and safety of the workers who grow and process these foods and those who staff our grocery stores.

Nevada’s farm workers have continued to grow produce and devise innovative new avenues to get it to our tables, and stores have taken unprecedented measures to safely stay open.

Although the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports there is no evidence that COVID-19 is being transmitted by packaging or fresh food, the people growing, selling and shopping for it do face considerable risks. Below is some key guidance for fruit and vegetable growers, as well as consumers, to reduce exposure to COVID-19 during this trying time.

Fruit and vegetable growers should implement on-farm social distancing and hygiene practices. Because this virus is primarily spread by person-to-person contact, social distancing is the most important defense on the farm. Follow scheduling, barrier, hand washing and shared-equipment-use practices recommended by the CDC, Produce Safety Alliance and Nevada Department of Agriculture. Monitor farm staff for illness and post reminders about COVID-19 prevention measures on the farm.

Clean and disinfect high-touch and food contact surfaces on a frequent schedule, including farm tools, equipment and facilities. The Environmental Protection Agency is maintaining a list of sanitizers that are effective against COVID-19, and California Certified Organic Farmers offers guidance on using sanitizers on organic operations. Make sure to use cleaners and disinfectants according to instructions on the label, and do not mix them.

Ensure that any packaging used for food transport is clean and protected from contamination. Make sure wash, pack and delivery workers are following COVID-19 health and hygiene practices and that vehicles are disinfected before every delivery. Note that cardboard and wax boxes cannot be cleaned and sanitized in general, and reuse of packaging is of heightened concern during this pandemic.

Have a farm food-safety plan in place. Comprehensive food-safety procedures are proven to reduce the risks of contamination in general. Ensure all farm workers understand and are trained on safe produce handling and additional COVID-19 measures.

Consumers should limit trips to the grocery store or market, maintain social distance and wear a mask. All of these practices that have become so familiar in the past couple of months reduce the risk of COVID-19 exposure to you and the people around you.

Frequent hand washing is the simplest and most effective action anyone can take. Wash hands for 20 seconds before and after shopping and handling food.

Rinse fruit and vegetables under clean running water, scrubbing with a brush if necessary. This is a general food-safety practice that is always a good idea. Do not use soaps, sanitizers or disinfectants on fresh food at home, and follow standard safe food-handling rules.

Finally, keep checking sources of credible and timely online food-safety information. The Food and Drug Administration, CDC, Produce Safety Alliance and Nevada Department of Agriculture offer guidance for producers and consumers regarding COVID-19 and food-safety risks. Be aware of this guidance so that you can observe whether your local store and other sources of fresh food are properly managing risks and stay up to date with practices for your home.

Growers or others wanting information on produce safety can connect on the Desert Farming Initiative Facebook page at facebook.com/DesertFarmingInitiative.

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