Yuma Ag and You: Food Safety is Everyone’s Responsibility

Bobbi Stevenson McDermott     December 11, 2016 publication

The produce fields make a beautiful patchwork of colors and shapes. It is so tempting to stop your vehicle and walk into the fields to take a closer look, and you really want to figure out what the heck is growing there. Please don’t! Food safety is paramount for the growers in Yuma County and anything you do in the fields will cost them time and money.

If you have animals, do not walk them in or around fields. Pick up and properly dispose of their droppings so they do not get carried into fields. Do not throw anything into the fields, irrigation ditches or canals. Do not drive on canal roads as dust is a contaminant in the crops. Every grower has water trucks running continuously around the crop fields for dust control. There are products on the market for dust control but they are not compatible with food safety regulations.

Irrigation water is tested for water borne contaminants at least each week and in some cases daily. Written detailed reports are kept when trespassing is found in the field, whether animal or human. Procedures are followed to determine how large an area might have been contaminated, and plants are not harvested, costing the grower and harvester money.

Everything about the safety of our food supplies before it gets to the store is the responsibility of the farmer. The process of making sure the winter crops we grow are wholesome is exhausting. In the preplanning for the produce season, food safety is on the minds of local growers. ‘Train the trainer sessions’ are held to prepare each company to train all their employees in proper practices for food safety. Those not involved in vegetable production do not understand the depth of the responsibility growers and harvesters have to keep their products safe.

Food safety is the cost of doing business for companies, required by customers and consumers. Rules for field workers include no smoking, eating, drinking, chewing gum, snacking or spitting in the fields. You are to come to work having showered and wearing clean clothes. No jewelry of any kind, personal adornment items, watches or make-up is allowed. As a worker you will wash your hands many times a day. First, when you start the day before you put on your gloves, then every time you take a break, use the restroom, eat your lunch or move from field to field. Gloves are not considered enough protection so hands must be clean when you put them on,

Tools are regularly sanitized. Knives cannot have chipped blades, cracked handles or tape on the handles. No equipment can be brought from home, only harvesting tools provided are allowed. Bins, baskets, tables, mechanical harvest aids, brushes and buckets must be sanitized and cleaned daily. The chain of cleanliness continues to the boxes made in the field, containers for bulk products, container liners, pallets and harvest aids. Tractors and other field equipment can have no loose or damaged parts, be free of dirt, diesel, oil or grease.

Through the Yuma Visitors Bureau, you can take part in guided tours that take you through our croplands and learn about our wonderful agriculture. There are farmer’s markets during the week where fresh produce can be purchased. Just because a field looks harvested, it is not an invitation to help yourself to remaining crops. By trespassing into farm fields you are exposing yourself and those you share the stolen bounty with to unexpected consequences.