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September is National Preparedness Month (as declared by the Department of Homeland Security) and National Food Safety Education Month (as declared by the Centers for Disease Control). As we continue to combat COVID-19 and other disasters, this September is an especially good time to update (or create) your farm’s food safety and disaster plans! Keep reading for tips and resources to help you.
Your Farm’s Food Safety Plan
You’ve probably heard the term “food safety culture.” Food safety culture refers to the values, beliefs, and practices about food safety shared by everyone involved in your farm’s operation. A strong food safety culture helps a farm prevent and catch problems that may threaten the safety of your farm’s produce. A critical part of your farm’s food safety culture is ensuring your workers understand your farm’s food safety plan and how they fit into it. Now is a great time to create or update your farm’s food safety plan and strengthen your farm’s food safety culture! There are lots of resources available to help you:
Maryland Food Safety Network’s “Food Safety Fridays” monthly webinar series is recommended for farm operators who have attended a Produce Safety Rule (PSR) Grower Training and want more information about how to apply what they learned. Each installment includes a half-hour presentation followed by an open question and answer session. The webinars are hosted by experts demonstrating how to perform risk assessments, implement practices, and keep records to comply with the PSR. Upcoming installments include the following:
September 18, 2020, How to: Develop a Sanitation Program
October 16, 2020, How to: Apply, Handle and Store Biological Soil Amendments
November 20, 2020, How to: Put It All Together in a Food Safety Plan
See this past post, ALEI’s website, the University of Maryland Extension’s Food Safety website, the University of Maryland’s Produce Safety website or the Maryland Department of Agriculture’s Food Quality Assurance webpage for more information about the webinars, to register to attend the upcoming installments, to learn how to watch the previous episodes, and to learn about Maryland’s Food Safety Network.
And if you have not yet completed a PSR Grower Training, be sure to keep checking this blog and the sites listed above for information about upcoming opportunities to attend virtual trainings.
The Food & Drug Administration’s Employee Health and Food Safety Checklist for Human and Animal Food Operations During the COVID-19 Pandemic provides a checklist for FDA-regulated human and animal food operations to use when assessing operations during COVID-19. Parts of the checklist may be useful to farms that are growing, harvesting, packing, or holding human or animal food regulated by FDA. That includes produce, seafood, milk, eggs, grains, game meat, and other raw materials or ingredients, as well as their resulting human or animal food products. The checklist is not an exhaustive list of the things farms can do for employee health and food safety during the COVID-19 pandemic. Instead, the list is meant to be used in conjunction with additional information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), OSHA, and other federal, state, and local authorities. For example, the CDC and the U.S. Department of Labor’s guidance for Agriculture Workers and Employers.
The University of Maryland Extension has a webpage with information about Food, Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene Information for Use Before and After a Disaster or Emergency.
Your Farm’s Disaster Preparedness Plan
This year’s National Preparedness Month theme is “Disasters Don’t Wait. Make Your Plan Today.” The point is, we know natural disasters (e.g., fires, floods, hurricanes, widespread illness), human-caused disasters (e.g,, accidents, acts of violence) and/or technology-related disasters (e.g., power outages, equipment failure) are going to happen, and you want to have your plan in place before the disaster hits!
When it comes to natural disasters, the best plan is to have adequate property insurance and also crop/livestock insurance. Property insurance helps farms rebuild structures that are lost. Crop or livestock insurance will pay farmers what they would have received for selling their farm products if those products hadn’t been destroyed.
To get property insurance, you need to work with an insurance agent or broker. Ideally you’ll find someone who understands farming. Check with you local Extension agent and other farmers in your area for names of agents and try to get a couple different quotes from different insurance companies so you can compare costs and coverages.
To get crop or livestock insurance, you’re going to need to contact a local insurance agent who is a USDA Risk Management Agency Authorized Insurance Provider (AIP). You can search for an AIP here.
If you have insurance, now is a good time to review your policies with your insurance agent(s) and make sure that you have adequate and appropriate coverages for your farm’s unique risks. You should be updating your declarations list every year and whenever you have made significant changes to your operation, including acquiring new assets like new equipment or structures or beginning to offer on-farm activities or events (or ceasing to offer on-farm activities).
If you’ve experienced a natural disaster and you’re looking for disaster relief, Farmers Legal Action Group (FLAG) has an updated “Farmers’ Guide to Disaster Assistance.” USDA also has a disaster assistance recovery tool where you can input information about the disaster you’ve experienced and see what program you may qualify for.
Homeland Security’s Ready.gov webpages include a section specifically for businesses. The site provides “toolkits” with sections on identifying the risks, developing a plan, and taking action. Regardless of the size of your operation, it’s worth taking a look to get you thinking about your plan for your farm should a disaster happen.