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Agronomist notebook: A checklist to produce clean and safe food

Saturday November 30 2019

A worker tends tomatoes in a greenhouse at the Wambugu Agricultural Training Institute in Nyeri.

A worker tends tomatoes in a greenhouse at the Wambugu Agricultural Training Institute in Nyeri. The first step in producing healthy and safe food is observing farm hygiene. PHOTO | JOSEPH KANYI | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

ANN MACHARIA
By ANN MACHARIA
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To many, farming is a dirty, casual job that is only recognised as a profession by those in the sector. But the so-called dirty job is critical as it produces what we eat and builds the economy.

Farming, however, should not be a dirty job in the real sense of the phrase because what consumers need is clean, healthy food.

The first step in producing healthy and safe food is observing farm hygiene. It begins from nursery management to post-harvest practices.

I have visited several farms that do not have washrooms and for others, one has to walk for a long distance to respond to the call of nature.

On other farms, I have seen male workers relieving themselves on the edges of the farm or on trees, which contributes to contamination of food.

Well, while farming is a ‘dirty job’, farmers and their workers must maintain high levels of personal hygiene to ensure the food produced is safe.

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Washing hands before handling produce is the easiest hygienic measure for any farm worker. Workers should not only wash hand, but disinfect them especially when harvesting, sorting or packing produce.

Their fingernails should be kept short as long nails hide soil and microorganisms that can easily transmit diseases.

Long nails can also puncture the skin of fruits or vegetables, providing an entry point for pathogens, making the products to rot quickly.

A farmer should also provide clean water always and sufficient sanitation units. This should be done while preparing the initial farm layout.

KEEPING THE FARM CLEAN

Alongside clean water, provide adequate facilities such as basins, soap, bathroom and dressing or changing rooms.
As a farmer, don’t tire to remind your workers the importance of farm and personal hygiene.

Preparing a checklist for general hygiene instructions reminding workers on the importance of farm hygiene helps. The instructions should aim at keeping the farm clean.

Avoid getting into contact with food, especially if you are unwell, keep your nails clean, always wear protective clothing which should be clean, cover your hair and dispose litter at designated areas.

Protective gear includes overcoats or dustcoats, gumboots, gloves, masks and respirators. Each farm worker should have two or three pairs of the gear so that they can change and have time to wash the other one.

Hygiene procedures must be clarified to every worker at the time of hire and the worker must confirm his or her understanding.

More often, a farmer needs to train the farm workers on how to maintain hygiene on the farm and let them understand the risks of the unclean working environment. Regular risk assessment to determine the level of hygiene should be undertaken.

For one to ensure that he is producing safe food, it's essential to conduct a farm self-assessment to identify the hazards and the causes that are threatening food safety.

It is only then that a farmer should introduce control measures to avoid, reduce, or eliminate the risks.