Food is an essential part of our lives. In this time of uncertainty, we are all wondering what the best safe practices are to incorporate during our visit to the grocery stores, markets and even take-out restaurants. It is our intention to help everyone stay safe and healthy during this time.
This Thursday, June 11th, at 12:30pm (EST), AFOP’s Children in the Fields Campaign will be holding a live stream on Food Safety on its Facebook #LiveThursday. Our guest speakers include Jaydee Hanson from the Center for Food Safety and Kerri Lack from PathStone New Jersey. We hope you can join us and ask all the questions you may have regarding this topic.
Farmworkers carry a huge responsibility of feeding us, and we recognize them for the essential work they do. For those of us who are not in the fields, there are many questions that might come up concerning the food industry. I have asked family, friends and neighbors for their questions and concerns regarding handling the food purchased at these establishments. I will try to provide answers using the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommendations, and a bit of common sense. I will try to keep it as simple as possible to ensure everyone understands. These were some of the questions I collected:
How should I prepare to go to the grocery store?
The FDA has provided a great list on how to get oneself ready before visiting the supermarket:
- Prepare a shopping list in advance. Buy just 1 to 2 weeks-worth of groceries at a time
- Wear a face covering or mask while you are in the store. Check your local store requirements.
- Carry your own wipes, or use one provided by the store to wipe down the handles of the shopping cart or basket. If you use reusable shopping bags, ensure they are cleaned or washed before each use.
- Avoid touching products unless it’s to put in your grocery cart.
- Do not be afraid to ask others to step back if they are too close to you in line.
- Wash your hands with warm water and soap for at least 20 seconds when you return home and again after you put away your groceries.
Remember to use common sense and to practice social distancing while at the grocery store. And, once you are finished with the groceries, make sure to wash your hands before getting in your car.
How should I sanitize/clean the food once I arrive home? What products should I use?
There are several steps you can take to ensure you properly clean the products you purchase at the grocery stores. One of the first things you need to consider when shopping for groceries is that, if you are planning to use reusable bags, they should be cleaned ahead of time. Once you arrive home, wash your hands and make sure your counter tops are clean as well.
Here are some tips on how to manage your purchased products:
- The FDA does not advise using any type of dish soaps, detergents, or disinfectants to clean fresh produce. Instead, they recommend washing fruits and veggies with cold running water and drying them with a paper towel. If you feel a bit insecure without using any cleaning agent, we recommend mixing 1 or 2 tablespoons of white vinegar with the water.
- Firm produce is recommended to be scrubbed with a brush.
- Canned goods can and should be cleaned with water and soap.
- Make sure to freeze or refrigerate perishable products within 2 hours of purchasing.
- After cleaning groceries, make sure to wash your hands again and to disinfect your countertops.
It is important to remember that, according to the CDC, there is no evidence supporting the transmission of COVID-19 via food or food packaging. However, some experts do acknowledge that there is a possibility of contracting COVID-19 by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching one’s own mouth, nose, or possibly their eyes, but this is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads. Also, there’s been no evidence found that ingesting the virus will lead to a coronavirus infection, as coronaviruses do not thrive in the digestive system, only the respiratory system, according to the CDC. Therefore, if someone sneezed or coughed on a produce you purchased, you should not catch the coronavirus from eating it. But if you touch an item shortly after someone coughed or sneezed on it and then touch your face without washing your hands, then there is a chance you can get infected.
How should I clean the meat purchased at the supermarket?
There is no evidence that consuming meats and produce can increase the chances of catching the virus. However, it is important to avoid cross-contamination between meat and other produce. You must make sure to keep all raw meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs separated, since these can spread germs.
It can feel tempting to wash, soak, or rinse your meat as a way to protect yourself from disease. According to the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service, “Washing meat or poultry can mean different things to different people: some consumers rinse it under running water or with a strainer, others soak it in containers full of water and some even use saltwater, vinegar or lemon juice to try to ‘clean’ their meat. However, washing raw poultry, beef, pork, lamb or veal before cooking it is not recommended. Bacteria in raw meat and poultry juices can be spread to other foods, utensils and surfaces.”
CDC’s Food Safety guidelines state that “you should not wash raw poultry or meat before cooking it, even though some older recipes may call for this step. Washing raw poultry or meat can spread bacteria to other foods, utensils, and surfaces, and does not prevent illness.”
Here are a few recommendations to follow when purchasing meat:
- Make sure packaging is tightly sealed and is very cold to the touch.
- Choose packaged chicken that looks pink, not gray.
- Always look for the Safe Food Handling label on packages of bacon and fresh sausage. This label means the meat has undergone safe processing and includes handling and cooking tips.
- Select meats and poultry after shopping for non-perishable items.
Animal food facilities, like other work establishments, need to follow protocols set by local and state health departments and provide supplies to increase the frequency of sanitization in work and common spaces. CDC recommends disinfecting frequently touched surfaces in workspaces and break rooms at least once per shift, if possible, including wiping down tools or other equipment at least as often as workers change workstations.
As stated on CDC’s website, CDC’s Critical Infrastructure Guidance, all meat and poultry processing facilities that plan for continuing operations even as COVID-19 infections are occurring among workers or the surrounding community should (1) work directly with appropriate state and local public health officials and occupational safety and health professionals; (2) incorporate relevant aspects of CDC guidance, including but not limited to this document and the CDC’s Critical Infrastructure Guidance; and (3) incorporate guidance from other authoritative sources or regulatory bodies as needed.
Are supermarkets required to sanitize stores?
Grocery stores are essential any given day. During the current pandemic, these stores have had to establish stronger cleaning protocols to help minimize cross-contamination in-store.
Measures such as frequent handwashing, use of hand sanitizers, use of protective clothing, and good respiratory hygiene, will reduce the risk of spreading the disease. Employers should stress the importance of more frequent handwashing and maintaining good hygiene practices, and of more frequently cleaning and disinfecting surfaces that are touched regularly
The World Health Organization (WHO) provides the following recommendations:
- Employees must wash their hands thoroughly with soap and warm water for 20 seconds upon first arriving to work, after using the restroom, before and after eating and frequently throughout the day. Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth.
- Employees should use facemasks at all times.
- Store must provide employees with alcohol-based (60%) hand sanitizers by placing them at convenient/accessible locations.
- Ensure shopping cart and basket handles are sanitized between each customer’s use.
- Frequently sanitize surfaces and objects such as electronics, door knobs, faucet handles, counter tops, cash machine key pads, and shopping cart handles throughout the day.
- Assign employees at high risk for coronavirus to non-public-contact.
- Offer designated shopping hours for customers at high risk.
- Display signage in the store that communicates with customers and staff the steps being taken to minimize the risk of COVID-19. Here are some resources to download.
- Regulate the number of customers who enter the retail store to avoid overcrowding.
- Manage queue control consistent with physical distancing advice both inside and outside stores.
- Use floor markings inside the retail store to facilitate compliance with the physical distancing, particularly in the most crowded areas.
What measures should agricultural employers and employees take during Covid-19?
Agricultural workers and employers have been deemed as essential workers. Their safety should be our first priority, since, after all, without them we would not be able to eat. Employers must establish a clear plan to incorporate safe practices while working in the fields.
These are just some recommendations to follow. However, the more you can do, the better. Just make sure to follow federal and state regulations to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.
- Clean and disinfect equipment and work surfaces.
- Wash hands as much as possible, especially before and after eating, using the bathroom, smoking, handling pesticides, and all activities at the workplace.
- Wear facemask at all times.
- Maintain sufficient distance to avoid contracting coronavirus.
- If social distancing is not possible in the workplace, employers should provide barriers to block sneezes and coughs, as well as negative pressure ventilation.
- Establish and implement a plan if an employee tests positive for the coronavirus.
- Establish and implement a plan for migrant housing to prevent contagion of COVID-19.
Without a doubt, we are living through tough times. Everyone in every industry or even those staying at home are vulnerable to the novel coronavirus. It is important that we act with conscientiousness and prevent exposing ourselves and others. We hope this blog helps you make a plan for you and your family to prevent getting exposed to and infected with COVID-19.
To all essential workers a big THANK YOU! We see you, we love you, and we appreciate everything you are doing for all of us.