Hand washing fundamental anchor of food safety practices
COCKEYSVILLE, Md. — At the end of Future Harvest’s Video Conference Call for Farmers, Lindsey Gilmour, a nationally known Food Safety Educator, gave a presentation on “Food Safety in the Time of COVID-19.”
Her presentation not only built on some of the tips already offered by the previous farmer participants, but also reiterated throughout her presentation the ever-important admonition about the need for everyone to wash their hands. “I can never say it enough,” said Gilmour.
She opened her presentation with relevant food safety portions of a statement that had been issued that morning, March 25, by Frank Yiannis, the deputy commissioner for food policy and response at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. To wit, Yiannis stated “… the U.S. food supply remains safe for both people and animals. There is no evidence of human or animal food or food packaging being associated with transmission of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19.”
As further indicated in both Yiannis’s statement and later elaborated on by Gilmour, those conclusions regarding transmission are based on data from past respiratory virus outbreaks such as the SARS and MERS outbreaks.
Before moving into some specific concerns, Gilmour highlighted some food safety resources available to farmers, including a series of fact sheets that have been put out by North Carolina State University. She also recommended the ongoing resource webpage being maintained by Future Harvest — “COVID-19 Resources for Farmers.”
Again, she stressed proper procedures for hand washing, including the use of hand sanitizer, which Gilmour pointed out is “not usually a considered a good replacement for hand washing. However, we’re in a crisis moment” she continued, “and there will be times when you’re not able to wash your hands” and, in those instances, hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol can be used instead.
In addition, to her emphasis on proper hand washing procedures, Gilmour discussed the importance of the proper use of gloves. To begin with, people need to remember that they cannot simply put on gloves, or dig into a box of gloves without sanitizing – in other words, hand washing – their hands before you put the gloves on. Secondly, once the gloves are on your hand, “you are not invincible,” cautioned Gilmour. “The gloves become your skin, and you have to treat it as if it’s your hand.”
Indeed, in later conversations, she re-emphasized the importance of proper glove use, particularly disposable gloves. “All too often people think they put on the gloves and they don’t have to do anything else.”
Along with hand washing, Gilmour talked about the need to clean and disinfect nonporous, hard contact surfaces along with tools and utensils. “Think about everything you’re touching with your hands,” she suggested.
“For example, cooler handles. Typically,” she continued, “we would say to clean out the inside of that cooler you use to transport your products to market and not even think about wiping down the handles.”
In response to questions from call attendees, Gilmour later pointed out that farmers understand not only the difference between cleaning and sanitizing, but also the difference between sanitizing and disinfecting.
Surfaces should be cleaned before sanitizing because organic matter is going to reduce the efficacy of the sanitizer later used. “You should at least wipe off debris before spraying on sanitizer,” she advised.
As for the difference between sanitizing and disinfecting, “sanitizing means reducing the level of pathogens to a level that’s acceptable to human health, whereas disinfecting is a kill step,” explained Gilmour. “You can often use the same product to do both – for instance, sanitizing and disinfecting with Sanidate – but, disinfecting requires a higher concentration and a longer exposure time.”
And, if you’re using bleach to disinfect your nonporous surfaces, Gilmour indicated that the coronavirus requires a higher concentration be used: 5 tablespoons per gallon, or 4 teaspoons per quart.
Finally, Gilmour recommended that farmers educate and track all visitors to their property by keeping a visitors log. Not only should farmers have visitors sign the log, but they should also have them give a phone number and an email address to enable them to be contacted in the event that contact tracing later needs to be done.
Gilmour ended with the thought that “With the virus, it’s the same as for a store owner, or an individual at their home. It’s most important that we keep our distance. It’s most important that we are doing proper hand washing every time we need to hand wash. And using gloves properly when we need to use gloves.”