May is strawberry month in North Carolina, and many growers are adjusting practices to follow guidelines put out by NCDA&CS. NCSU Extension has also put out farming resources, providing additional information for strawberry farms. The following information will likely be applicable to other produce and fruit farms as their seasons begin.
NCDA&CS guidelines for employers include screening arriving workers for symptoms of COVID-19, such as fever, cough or shortness of breath. In addition, farms should educate workers about hand hygiene, respiratory etiquette and emergency response. Workers should be provided weekly supplies to fight COVID-19 such as alcohol-based hand sanitizer, tissues, disinfectants and lined trash cans. Employers need to have an emergency plan for how to care for and isolate COVID-19 infected workers.
Daily, farms are encouraged to have workers take their temperature before work, always wear a face mask, practice social distancing, not work if sick, not share objects used near the face and avoid congregating.
Farms should communicate to consumers that COVID-19 is not a food-borne disease but spreads mainly from person to person via droplets and aerosols. There is currently no evidence that the virus is transmitted through fresh produce. Eating fresh strawberries is not harmful, as Dr. Ben Chapman explains in this video. Farms can utilize the resources available to ensure worker and consumer safety, and if there are questions not answered in the links call the COVID-19 Agriculture Hotline at 1-866-747-9823.
By Christina Harvey, Horticultural Marketing Specialist