By: Vashti Kelly, Programs Manager
In general, proper personal hygiene care is widely considered essential to maintaining good overall health. However, when it comes to farm work good hygiene amid workers is good agricultural practice. Hygiene training is a serious matter that should not be overlooked by farm operators. Without appropriate training for workers, it could lead to disease-causing microorganisms that would likely spread to fresh produce from individuals if they become ill, for instance through their stool.
To reduce the prospect of contamination, it is vital that farm workers receive, understand, and practice appropriate personal hygiene. It is key that employers continue to provide proper amounts of water, breaks and toilet facilities with handwashing stations for workers in the fields to avoid unnecessary contamination to produce and the surrounding environment.
Farm Worker Health, Hygiene and Personal Practices
Basic employee hygiene.
Farm workers should wear clean clothes and bathe regularly before coming to work. All open wounds and sores should be bandaged and covered with waterproof protection, like a plastic glove over a finger with band aid. In instances where wounds cannot be covered workers should not be allowed to handle produce or packaging.
Other practices include fingernail trimming, tying hair back or restraining with hats, bandanas, hair nets (for facial hair too) and restriction of inhibiting jewelry.
Toilet use and Handwashing.
Workers should understand that they are expected to use toilets and should not urinate or defecate in, near or around the fields and packing house. Employers must make toilet facilities accessible to workers, within a 1/4 mile of all workers, including those in the fields.
Workers should be instructed on proper handwashing techniques and signage of how and where to located handwashing stations. Workers should wash hands prior to beginning work and after using the toilet, eating, drinking, smoking, or any time contamination may have happened (sneezing/coughing); making sure to wash under fingernails.
Illness and Injury.
Workers who fall ill should be prohibited from working with produce and packaging materials. Managers should know the signs and observe and prohibit workers from continuing to handle produce. Similarly, there should be written policies on handling, disposal and cleaning of produce or contact surfaces that have been contaminated with bodily fluids.
Prior to beginning work all workers should be trained on the importance of and how to maintain proper hygiene. Training should be at minimal on an annual basis and refreshers provided prior to harvest season.
Farm worker health and hygiene is a critical component of food safety allowing thousands of farms to provide quality produce to millions of consumers. Anyone who works on a farm should be trained and educated on farm food safety policies. Although, AFOP Health & Safety Programs does not presently provide Good Agricultural Practices (GAPs) training there are number of topics that overlap with current trainings such as proper handwashing, provision of toilet facilities, and protective clothing. Remember, fruits and vegetables are often harvested, sorted, and packed by hand and in the same location therefore farm worker hygiene is essential to reducing the risk of product contamination and mass recalls due to illness outbreaks.