Get the CDC and Department of Labor Assessment and Control Plan Guidance here.

By Frank Kelsey | March 2020

A Guide for Growers

What is coronavirus and why is this unique?

Coronavirus is a term used to describe a family of viruses that have a number of common characteristics. Coronaviruses are known to cause the common cold in humans. The recently identified strain of coronavirus that originated in China late in 2019 is now designated as Covid-19. This strain had not been previously detected as causing illness in humans. Covid-19 has proven to be highly contagious and has a higher mortality rate than we see with other more common seasonal viruses that cause upper respiratory infections. It presents a new health risk, particularly to individuals with underlying health issues, the elderly, and immuno-compromised individuals. That is why Covid-19 is of such concern to health care professionals and government officials.

How is it transmitted?

Covid-19 is spread primarily through respiratory droplets, similar to the flu. Individuals who are ill with the virus can spread it when they cough or sneeze in the proximity of other people. Surfaces contaminated by infected droplets are also believed to be a source of transmission. 

What are the symptoms?

The virus does not affect everyone the same way. Most people will have minimal or mild symptoms similar to that of a cold. Individuals with underlying health issues and the elderly are at the greatest risk of developing a more serious respiratory illness if infected with Covid-19.

As a farmer, processor, or packinghouse manager, what do I need to do to protect my operation?

Food safety SOPs for employee health and hygiene and equipment cleaning and sanitation already in place to prevent microbial cross contamination address risk factors associated with Covid-19. Currently, food is not thought to be a significant risk factor in transmission of the disease. Direct exposure to infected individuals is the primary risk factor for contracting the virus. Things to consider in your operation include:

  • Review your health and hygiene policies and procedures with your food safety team. You may wish to increase the frequency of cleaning and disinfection of high traffic, high frequency touch surfaces in break areas, lunchrooms, bathrooms, and meeting rooms. 
  • Provide refresher training on handwashing, glove usage, and general health and hygiene policies, and communicate any changes to all employees.
  • Clearly communicate expectations for employees to report illness symptoms to their supervisor or designated contact person within the company.
  • Stay abreast of the latest developments by monitoring recommendations from CDC (www.cdc.gov) and your local health department. Local officials will have the most current guidelines and recommendations in the event that a cluster of Covid-19 cases emerges in your area. 

How do I determine if the product I use to clean and disinfect employee common areas kills coronavirus?

The World Health Organization has stated that disinfectants that kill other coronaviruses are expected to be effective against Covid-19. To identify such products:

  • Disinfectants are required to be EPA registered, so make sure the product label carries an EPA registration number.
  • Look for coronavirus to be listed on the product label.
  • If coronavirus is not listed on the product label, look for specific information concerning “Emerging viral pathogen Covid-19”. EPA and CDC have coordinated on criteria to identify disinfectants that are expected to be effective against Covid-19, and products meeting that criteria will be identified with language specific to Covid-19 once approved by EPA. 
  • Follow label directions for concentration and contact time for coronavirus / Covid-19. 

How do I keep my employees and myself from catching the virus?

  • Avoid contact with people who are ill.
  • Frequent handwashing (20 seconds with soap and water).
  • Avoid touching your face.
  • Disinfect high frequency touch surfaces on a regular basis (door handles, table surfaces, countertops, etc).
  • Do not share utensils or food.
  • Cover up when coughing or sneezing.
  • Avoid getting “run down”; get a good night’s sleep and eat a balanced diet with lots of fruits and vegetables.

Frank Kelsey helps growers, packers and processors of fresh fruit and vegetable products address food safety and shelf-life extension challenges. He has multiple publications in the area of produce safety research and has been an invited speaker at numerous industry technical conferences. He is trained on virus prevention in food processing by the International Association for Food Protection. He is the Chief Science Officer at Highland Ag Solutions.