In the midst of the current COVID-19 pandemic, farms around the globe continue to supply a hungry world. However, farmers and farm workers must now do so with additional concerns of potential illness that could disrupt their families, their communities, and their ability to produce.

Although there is no evidence that food or food packaging transmit the coronavirus according to a study by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and other authorities (see our recent news post compiling various helpful links, there are still concerns about safe production and handling of produce at farm level to protect both the product and those who plant, tend, harvest, and pack it.

Many producers are wondering what they can and should do. There are many sources explaining the symptoms and basic prevention measures such as hand washing. Local, regional, and national governments are identifying testing options and measures to take in the case of suspected or confirmed infections .

 The information in this document is intended to illustrate how the implementation of basic good agricultural practices can help the farming community, especially in this time of uncertainty.

  Basic guidelines:

1. Social distancing 

Per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) recommendation, social distancing involves “remaining out of congregate settings, avoiding mass gatherings, and maintaining distance” whenever possible to limit the ability of the virus to spread. This means that producers should consider limiting or prohibiting farm visitors, avoid shaking hands and other physical contact, ensure workers have sufficient space – at least 6 feet (about 2 m) at all times –, and follow any local guidelines regarding this topic.
Where possible, telecommuting (work from home, flexible workplace) should be instituted for workers that are not needed on farm.
In packhouses and other enclosed environments, staggered shift changes and breaks must be considered.

2. Sick workers

Although it is obvious that workers who show signs of illness should not work with produce, and this is also mandated by the hygiene risk assessment and procedures, it is important to emphasize and enforce these policies. The specific information regarding self-isolation and quarantine for COVID-19 must be observed and all workers need to be aware of this. Notification of symptoms and of positive tests (of workers and family members of workers) is crucial to avoid spread of the virus.

The control point AF 3 “Hygiene” (3.1 to 3.4) of the GLOBALG.A.P. Integrated Farm Assurance covers these requirements, and producers should update their procedures and training to include the special case requirements in regard to COVID-19.

3. Handwashing

Handwashing remains one of the best protective measures to avoid spreading or contracting the virus. For excellent handwashing instructions, see an informative video, praised by Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organization.

Workers handling ready-to-eat products should wash their hands prior to start of work, after each visit to a toilet, after handling contaminated material, after smoking or eating, after breaks, prior to returning to work, and at any other time when their hands may have become a source of contamination (e.g., after touching their face).

The use of gloves is not necessarily safer and should comply with the policies already set for glove usage (e.g., disposal of single-use gloves).

The effectiveness of facial masks as protective clothing, in preventing the spread of and contraction with the virus is subject to scientific uncertainty and argument. At this time, GLOBALG.A.P. does not have a recommendation on whether or not they should be used as standard practice in production. Workers that show flu-like symptoms (but not tested positive for COVID-19) should wear masks, but as explained above, not be working around other people or food products at all.  Workers that need masks as part of normal protection measures, such as for pesticide applications, should continue to wear the appropriate personal protective equipment according to label instructions.

Producers should provide sufficient supplies of soap, single-use towels, and hand sanitizers to all workers and at all workstations.

GLOBALG.A.P. Integrated Farm Assurance Annex 1 AF: General Risk Assessment, AF 3: Hygiene (3.1-3.4), AF 4.4: Protective Clothing/Equipment, AF 4.5: Worker Welfare, FV 5.1: Principles of Hygiene, FV 5.2: Sanitary Facilities

4. Emergency procedures

Be ready for when you and/or considerable parts of the workforce are ill, and the operation needs to run on minimal staff. Prepare basic procedures on whom to contact in case someone shows symptoms or whom to notify of possible infection or exposure, emergency contact numbers, and contingency plans in order to continue operating. Identify scenarios in which you would have to temporarily (short- or long-term) closedown the operation. Communication of the status and procedures to all workers should be clear and succinct.

GLOBALG.A.P. Integrated Farm Assurance AF 4.1.2, 4.3.1, and 4.5.2

5. Visitors policy

Visitors should be limited to an unavoidable minimum and must strictly follow instructions on social distancing and hygiene.

GLOBALG.A.P. Integrated Farm Assurance AF 3.2 (hygiene policy), AF 4.3.1 (accident and emergency procedures), AF 4.4.1 (protective clothing

 Where producers are responsible for worker housing, it is necessary that workers and their families understand these mitigating measures and implement social distancing and increased hygiene measures.

Transportation of workers should follow all these measures and any additional requirements (e.g., permits) set by guidelines or regulations.

Do not rely solely on this guidance in your efforts to prevent and combat the spread of COVID-19. Instructions and guidelines that are released by any government body on country/state/province level have to be complied with fully and prevail this guidance in case of any conflict.

Useful resources:

  • GLOBALG.A.P. Integrated Farm Assurance standard for Fruit & Vegetables, v5.2 or v5.3-GFS. Documents can be downloaded free of charge at www.globalgap.org.